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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Gruesomely Chilling And Convincing
A powerhouse of a near-future dystopia, unrelenting in its grim intensity. This amazing novel by Christopher Priest is a glimpse into the future of an England caught up in an armed three-way conflict, between the Nationalist government of neo-Fascist Prime Minister John Tregarth, a liberal Seccessionist element and organised bands of refugee Africans, having fled a...
Published on 19 Nov 2002 by Peter Davidson

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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Early writing shows strengths and flaws
I've been a fan of Christopher Priest since I read 'The Glamour', and have, I think, read all his subsequent books. Finding this out of print early novel was an unexpected treat; however, it has clarified certain misgivings I have about Priest's writing

The fascination with the shifting time frames, the dream, or rather nightmare quality, the views of reality...
Published on 1 Aug 2008 by Lady Fancifull


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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Gruesomely Chilling And Convincing, 19 Nov 2002
A powerhouse of a near-future dystopia, unrelenting in its grim intensity. This amazing novel by Christopher Priest is a glimpse into the future of an England caught up in an armed three-way conflict, between the Nationalist government of neo-Fascist Prime Minister John Tregarth, a liberal Seccessionist element and organised bands of refugee Africans, having fled a nuclear holocaust from the African continent. This breakdown is seen through the eyes of the book's protagonist Alan Whitman through his and that of his family's struggle to survive the anarchic hell of what once was England.
The book itself is written in a disjointed, fractured style of writing (with constant use of flashbacks), that to the casual reader can leave one feeling confused and disoriented, however, closer inpection of the book's structure reveal this to be to the book's benefit as it leaves the book short of fat and strong on substance and structure. Parts of the storyline as seen through the eyes of Whitman impart a dreamy, hallucinatory feeling to the reader who can never be sure of what will happen next. One may not be satisfied with the length of this short book (128 pages) but personally, I found the short length to be satisfying.
This book is gritty, unstylised and yet not so much a product of its time. Despite its themes reflecting the NEW WAVE exploration of entropy and dissolution, the book's storyline immediately brought back to me, the strong feelings that arose from the M.V Tampa crisis in Australia of 2001, prior to 9/11. I remembered the feelings of fear, hostility and paranoia from the Australian public towards the stranded refugees and the possible reaction of the public towards these boat people had they been allowed to land in Australia. The book is as relevant now as it was back upon release in 1972.
I believe this to be perhaps the most accurate and disturbing example of classic dystopia and political sci-fi ever written.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Solid early novel from a great author, 8 Jun 2011
By 
Gareth Wilson - Falcata Times Blog "Falcata T... - See all my reviews
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When you get the chance to go back and sample an established authors earlier titles you are either heavily delighted or disappointed that its not quite met the standards of later titles. Why people fall into one of these two camps I'm not sure but its something I've observed on more than one occasion. Whilst this one doesn't have quite the polish or character development of later works such as The Extremes or The Quiet Woman, the concepts and dystopian ideas are present in this, his second novel.

As you'd come to expect its well written, the plot line thought provoking which when blended with what I term as a distinct vocal idiom really hooks the reader into this disturbing vision. Add to this decent dialogue some great twists and this really is a title that's hard to put down. Hopefully more will get to enjoy this title and develop their love for his work from there.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Civil war in the UK, 8 May 2010
By 
Andy Phillips (Leicestershire, UK) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Fugue for a Darkening Island (Paperback)
I have been trying to find this book literally for years, but have only recently managed to do so without spending a fortune. While it had its good points, it didn't really live up to my expectations. However, this book features on a lot of lists of apocalyptic fiction, which was the reason for me buying it, and I think my disappointment was mainly due to the fact that I don't really think it belongs in that genre. I only enjoyed it enough to score 3 stars, but I think it really deserves 4, hence my rating.

The story centres around a man struggling to survive a civil war raging between three sides throughout the UK. The conflict essentially arises from a tide of African immigrants arriving in the UK as they attempt to flee a nuclear war occurring within Africa itself. It is told in a non-chronological order with three main strands - one set in the far past when he met his wife, one in the recent past at the outbreak of the conflict, and a third in the present, during the war. The tale jumps between these periods, with small passages that reveal the story gradually. It's not a brilliant book but it did keep me reading and is certainly worth picking up if you can find it.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Early writing shows strengths and flaws, 1 Aug 2008
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I've been a fan of Christopher Priest since I read 'The Glamour', and have, I think, read all his subsequent books. Finding this out of print early novel was an unexpected treat; however, it has clarified certain misgivings I have about Priest's writing

The fascination with the shifting time frames, the dream, or rather nightmare quality, the views of reality that are not quite solid and immutable are all there, as much as in his later and more polpular novels like The Prestige and The Affirmation.

So why didn't I rate this novel more highly? It's because something I had thought might be a flaw in some of Priest's characters, I'm now convinced is a flaw in his writing. His focus is always with characters who are dissociated in some way from their emotions; this is particularly evident in his descriptions of sexual encounters - there is a coldness at the heart of these, and possibly for the first time I'm aware that Priest's books could never be written by a woman; there's an undercurrent in this book which almost comes across as misogyny. I've certainly noticed it before, but had seen it as character, rather than author driven.

Maybe Priest can't write tenderness - and I'm certainly not saying men can't write tenderness, or that there aren't positive (rather than negative) differences in books which might be written by both men and women, which clearly show the strengths of each gender rather than what (in general) might be seen as the weaknesses.

Its just in this case, Priest is all hard angles, and this is as disconcerting as some female writers who are all marshmallow.

I know this is not meant in any way to be a comforting book - its a dystopia for heaven's sake, BUT and its a big but, I found no emotional engagement at all, except distaste, for all the characters. They are not clearly enough engaged with from the inside, to allow any sort of empathy.

It didn't really seem to matter what happened to any of the characters, and it does seem to me that any writing which so completely loses a sense of redeemable humanity somewhere, has failed. I appreciate that 'dystopia' has come about because of some disengagement from our own humanity, but on a fundamental level, to engage with that disengagement so completely as a writer that NOTHING and NO-ONE MATTERS is a huge huge flaw.

The writer who (for the first time) I would compare Priest to - a writer who also writes 'Science Fction' and engages with societal and political structures and dystopias, is Ursula K. Le Guin. This latter writer engages as deeply with politics, philosophy, existential unease, society in breakdown, dystopia, but there is a deep and abiding humanity through her work - the outcomes matter, because we, as readers, are able to engage. There is the same sense of engagement in humanity in Doris Lessing's 'Canopus In Argos' writings. They just happen to be women writing in the 'science fiction' genre. Perhaps what has made some women NOT enjoy 'science fiction' as a genre, is this tendency for disengagement with emotion, from some writers of the genre - though there are certainly male, as well as female, writers who absolutely engage with emotion - Wyndham, H.G. Wells, Orwell (1984) are three who immediately spring to mind, whose central characters are engaged with so particularly and individually that we can follow their journey and relate to their dilemmas.

Despite all my negative conclusions about 'Fugue' and feeling that its actually a rather unpleasant book, I have at least appreciated being able to dissect for my own satisfaction just WHY the book doesn't work. It certainly made me think!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Dark, thought provoking read, 25 Mar 2012
By 
J. Cooper (Sheffield, England) - See all my reviews
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The African continent is no longer habitable and millions of displaced refugees have fled the country in search of sanctuary and refuge. `Fugue for a Darkening Island' is the account of one man Alan and his attempts to battle through the aftermath of the arrival of the `Afrims'.

This relatively short book took me quite a while to complete and its certainly a book which demands high levels of concentration. This is because the narrative is split three ways, Alan's recollections prior to the `Afrim landings', Alan's recollections post `Afrim landings' and his present day experiences. These segmented `stories within a story' can become confusing and blurred if strict concentration is not maintained at all times! That being said, I found this book to be original, quirky and definitely thought provoking.

Imagine a Britain in which everything you knew had been destroyed; organisations which you have trusted all of your life have split loyalties and where your very survival is jeopardized on a daily basis. If you can do all of this, you have entered Alan's world and the murky aftermath of a global human catastrophe.

This book is ideal for stimulating conversation, whose side would you have joined? The nationalists loyal to the crown, the secessionists sympathetic to the `Afrim' cause, the `Afrims', the international aid organisations or the displaced British refugees? The book raises important questions surrounding race, identity, culture and simple human compassion. How would you have reacted in Alan's stead? Its not a question that I can easily answer.

This is a really good read, its one of those `what if' books which will truly get under your skin! If you love disaster novels with a twist, get this book. It will certainly get you thinking.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars ambiguous feelings about this one, 24 Aug 2010
By 
John Hopper (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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I'm not quite sure what to make of this one. The political scenario seems implausible and some of the language used to describe black people seems out of date and rather unpleasant, partly due to changes since the book was published in 1972, partly due to the racial and political tensions inherent within the plot, but the author's own stance seemed unclear to me for the first half.

The novel is very short (125 pages) but is not divided into chapters, a feature I always find off-putting. The narrative jumps around different times in the narrator's life, which can be confusing and a little frustrating at times. This is apparently a feature of other books by this author, a couple of which I may try.
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4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Rivers and rivers of blood, 18 July 2010
By 
Matthew Norton (Wolverhampton, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Fugue for a Darkening Island (Paperback)
"Fugue" hit the bookstores virtually while Enoch Powell was still driving home from his infamous speech at the Midland Hotel. He doesn't get mentioned in this novel, although what ensues is surely the plainest manifestation of his doomsayings. At some point in the "near future" (the prose does reference the "middle seventies" in a past context, thus suggesting perhaps an early 1980s timeline), when a nuclear exchange of some (rather sketchy) description destroys Africa, a flood of refugees - "Afrims" - descends upon the world. Britain by this time is already under a far-right government, which clamps down with predictable severity upon the Afrims, and tries to prevent any more from coming ashore (leaving them to drown in sinking ships), leading the Afrims to resort to force of arms. Liberal British supporters of the refugees "secede" from the State, and a civil war of increasing confusion and brutality develops. The unfolding chaos is told through the experiences and thoughts of Alan Whitman, a former college lecturer living in unhappy marriage with his wife and daughter in London, until the mounting violence prompts them to leave. Gradually, they find there is no escape from the chaos into which Britain is descending, and Whitman's efforts to effect some kind of moral neutrality are forced by events to come to nothing, as he loses everything he holds dear. That is to presume that he holds anything dear, for as a fellow reviewer has commented, the temperature of "Fugue" and of its' lead character is unrelentingly Arctic. As an example, the pre-war, natural death of Whitman's father - a man with whom he had not communicated "except formally and politely for several years": "When he died a few months later I tried unsuccessfully to feel more than a few minutes of regret". Then his marriage: "We learned to suffer one another; growing to dislike the sound of each other's voice, the sight of each other's face, the touch of our backs against each other as we lay in bed". It does become difficult for us to appreciate the purported sense of loss when Whitman's life seems so bereft of any concept of love or joy even without the war.
The tinder-dry narrative is evocative of John Christopher's "The Death of Grass" - another tale of apocalypse and concomitant barbarism in contemporary Britain - and the story bounces between Whitman's past and present in a way that takes a small amount of getting used to but which provides for swift delivery without the need for characters to unconvicingly relay plot developments and histories for the reader's benefit. In fact, the delivery may be a little TOO swift; as a broad brush, the civil war is conveyed very well, but you might prefer just a little more depth. Alas, I found the explanation of the initial calamity in Africa to be unsatisfactory, and even poorly written - it has a scrappy nature that reads more like a plot synopsis rather than a section of prose in a finished novel.
Despite my criticisms, I do not regard this at all to be a bad book. It is just that it could have been a better one. It is for this reason I decided to dock it one star for my final rating, but I would still happily recommend it as a powerfully-delivered, fast, convincing, disturbing little tale.
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1 of 5 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars rubbish, 2 Mar 2013
By 
Mr. E. Bray (North-west United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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The writer is totally inconsistent in style, His character is jumped at random between the now of the tale, and various points in his past, with no indication of where in the tale he is supposed to be. There are no chapter breaks to help identify the activities, and there is no logical pattern to give any reason for any of the jumps.
The character's narrative is written as if in the third party, and so is totally devoid of all emotion, feeling, or depth, while at the same time is supposed to be in the first party.
Overall, it is just a confusing amateurish mess of disjointed events that have supposedly happened to the character, as he reminisces, except that it is not reminiscence, but narrated in the present tense.
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Fugue for a Darkening Island
Fugue for a Darkening Island by Christopher Priest (Paperback - Sep 1973)
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