Thursday 20 August 2020

The Island by Ben McPherson @TheBenMcPherson #TheIsland @HarperCollinsUK @HarperFiction #BookReview

A shocking act of violence…
It should have been the safest place on earth. A summer camp for teens, on a beautiful island off the coast of Oslo. But what started out as a haven becomes hell on earth as two men start shooting.
A family torn apart…
With Norway in shock, the families gather, desperately hoping their children have survived. Some have their prayers answered. Some must confront their worst nightmare. But for one family, this is just the beginning…
A daughter gone missing…
Cal and Elsa’s daughter Licia was on the island that day. But the police can find no trace of her – dead or alive. Stuck in limbo, Cal and Elsa delve into their daughter’s life. The secrets they uncover are shocking. But they still don’t know – did Licia survive the shooting? Or is she gone forever?

The Island by Ben McPherson was published in hardback on 6 August 2020 by Harper Collins. It's published in the US under the title Love And Other Lies.
I bought my copy.

Way back in February 2015 I read and review Ben McPherson's first novel; A Line Of Blood . That was a novel that captivated me, it's been a long wait for this latest book, but it's worth it.

Elsa and Cal are a happily married couple with three children. They've been together for years, their relationship is strong and is built on truth. They don't lie to each other, and they don't expect their children to lie either. Cal is Scottish, Elsa is Norwegian and they've moved from Washington DC to live in Norway for six months. They are due to return to the States very soon with teenage daughters Licia and Vee and baby son Franklin.

However, a tragic and horrendous incident puts their plans on hold. Licia has recently gone off to summer camp celebrating International Future Females which is held on a small island just off Oslo.

News has just come in about an explosion at the official Government buildings in Oslo and whilst this is shocking and terrifying for the family, it isn't until they hear about a mass shooting on a small island that they realise just how close to home these atrocities are.

Licia is missing. Her body is not found. However, there is camera footage taken from a helicopter flying overhead that shows a girl answering her description in the water, alive. A small boy testifies that he was saved by this girl. Licia becomes the hero of the island, known throughout the country as the girl who selflessly saved others before herself.

Nobody can be unaware of the case of Anders Breivik, the far-right terrorist who committed the appalling acts in Norway in 2011. He planted a bomb in Oslo and then shot dead 69 people on the nearby island of Utoya. Whilst it is clear that Ben McPherson has been influenced by the Breivik case in The Island, this is not that story. This is a completely different story and whilst it has themes of terrorism and white supremacy, this is really a story of a family. Of their relationships and how these are altered by events, combined with a detailed and rich look at how the most ordinary of families can be picked apart by things outside of their control.

Cal and Elsa are extraordinarily well created. The contrast between Cal's warm Scottish nature, his way of using humour to deflect and his consuming love for his family and Elsa's Norwegian iciness is so very well done. Elsa is blunt and to the point, she has relationship rules that she expects others to adhere to, yet she hides so much ... the reader is never quite sure just where Elsa sits within this story.

This author incorporates Cal's ever growing feeling of being an outsider throughout the narrative. Everyone he meets, from the chief of Police to the local reporter comments on the fact that he is not Norwegian, they assume that he's English, and rather than continue to correct them, he just goes with it. Cal is often frustrated by the Norwegian police, he feels as though Licia is being let down, and despite the fact that he has a strong, personal relationship with the Chief of Police, his ever increasing frustration is apparent.

The Island is a chilling psychological thriller that kept me awake at night. The reality is that whilst this is a fictional story, it is taken from the truth, and the horrors of the rise of the white supremacist in Europe is explored in all of its hate-filled fury is laid bare. It's also a study in how young people can be groomed and influenced by this. How families with the best values at their core can be infected by the political ideology that totally goes against what they've always believed.

Ben McPherson is a master story teller. This brilliantly unnerving read leaves the reader in shock, with questions of their own. It is brilliantly and sensitively written. Certainly a contender for my Top Books of the Year list.

Ben McPherson was born in Glasgow and grew up in Edinburgh, but left Scotland when he was eighteen. He studied languages at Cambridge, then worked for many years in film and television in London.

In 1998, after working a forty-eight-hour shift, he went for a drink at the Coach and Horses in Soho and met the woman he would go on to marry. Similarities to the characters in A Line of Blood end there.

Ben now lives in Oslo with his wife and their two sons. He is a columnist for Aftenposten, Norway's leading quality daily newspaper.

Twitter @TheBenMcPherson
Author Page on Facebook 

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