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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars stunned
This is not a novel , or a collection of short stories, but a meander through the dream archipeligo. In the course of the journey we come across various stories, and different aspects of them in different paces. There are tragedies and affirmations, revenge and sweetness, and more explanation of what is actually happening in the archipeligo and how it got there .
It...
Published on 24 July 2012 by bibliovore

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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, but....
This is a thoroughly good read and always entertaining. But by the end I was feeling short-changed. Yes, I understand the multilayering, its cleverness, its self-referencing etc. etc. But it is a very fine line between referring back to previous books and short stories, and simply taking previous material and re-hashing it in a new form and calling it a novel. I think...
Published on 18 Oct. 2011 by K. Parr


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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars stunned, 24 July 2012
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This review is from: The Islanders (Hardcover)
This is not a novel , or a collection of short stories, but a meander through the dream archipeligo. In the course of the journey we come across various stories, and different aspects of them in different paces. There are tragedies and affirmations, revenge and sweetness, and more explanation of what is actually happening in the archipeligo and how it got there .
It almost answers questions asked in the original collection of stories , and that really should be read first , to get the most out of this book.
Even on its own though , this is a complex and rewarding book that is best read over several days rather than in one sitting , as its episodic structure lends itself best to that and the vagueness of memory.
I read hundreds of books in a year and few stand out - this one did and still does ; it is a genuine masterwork.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Echoing Le Guin and Calvino Is This Novel Cloaked as a Travel Guide, 11 Jun. 2013
By 
John Kwok (New York, NY USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Islanders (Hardcover)
"The Islanders" is a remarkable realistic speculative fiction tale about a murder, artistic rivalry and literary deception written by one of the finest writers writing now in any genre in the English language; eminent Briton Christopher Priest. This is a Rubik's Cube of a novel, recounting the main plot points in a literary style reminiscent, in places, of Akira Kurosawa's "Rashomon", and one that evokes early Ursula Le Guin (e. g. "Earthsea" and early "Ekumen" novels such as "The Left Hand of Darkness") and Italo Calvino ("Invisible Cities") in its expressive, descriptive, usage of language. Priest's prose may also remind readers of Thomas Bernhard's, especially with regards to its emphasis on visual art and art history. Pretending to be a "travel guide" to the Dream Archipelago, what Priest has wrought instead is a short story collection, with each tale merely a chapter in his intricately detailed novel, with a rather deceptive introduction to this "travel guide" from one of the protagonists, who may have a secret history pertaining to the murder itself. Readers will encounter scenes replete with unspeakable horror and memorable romance during their "visits" to each of the Dream Archipelago islands, in literary styles ranging from first person to almost impersonal third person narrative. Without a doubt, "The Islanders" demonstrates why Priest is one of the most elegant literary stylists writing today in the English language, and reaffirms his status as among the most noteworthy contributors to contemporary Anglo-American fiction irrespective of genre.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Refuting Donne - a weird, playful, mesmeric consciousness at work, 20 Mar. 2013
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This review is from: The Islanders (Paperback)
The subtitle of Christopher Priest's The Islanders `All men are islands' cocks a snook at Donne's `No Man is an Islande' which points out interconnectedness. Priest's supposed `gazetteer' of the islands of The Dream Archipelago both reinforces Donne and his own subtitle, which hints at the also truth of isolation, inward looking, self-reflective nature of islands and island dwellers

This is a book to mangle minds. Told by several unreliable narrators - including the writer himself, who turns out to have dedicated his book to one of his mysterious characters, and thereby does that `up yours' gesture to the reader who wonders how much the writer of the foreword, Chaster Kammeston, is, or is not, Priest himself - this book systematically pulls rugs out from under the readers' feet, up-ending and wickedly landing them on the floor.

Those familiar with Priest's writing will be no strangers to his ability to severely disorientate and deliberately unsettle the reader, turning his dream landscapes to nightmare, whisking what seemed safe ground away to reveal the yawning chasms of danger beneath. Echoes of his earlier works are scattered throughout the text. Indeed the islands themselves are part of The Dream Archipelago, the title of a previous work. One of the islands is the island where lottery winners achieve, through medical science, immortality, and some of the island names as well come from that previous work

Set in what is probably a post-apocalypse near or parallel future of this world, (environmentalists are already predicting this could be nearer than we think) global warming has flooded most of the landscape, leaving 2 war torn major land masses and the long, divided chain of islands of The Dream Archipelago. Presented as a travelogue or guide to some of the major islands, which, according to Kammeston are idyllic, peaceful areas of neutrality outside the still warring land mass areas, where the arts, education and scientific research which benefits all are held in high regard, we quickly learn that much of what Kammeston claims can be disregarded. The `no man is an island' of Donne's view and the `all men are islands' of Priest's subtitle clash and weave together - the oppositions proving and disproving each other just like 2 of the major installation artists of the book are shown to do.

Nothing is as it seems here, Priest reworking some of his major preoccupations with illusion, sleight of hand, the conscious attempt to deceive of theatrical magic - the major focus of his earlier The Prestige (GOLLANCZ S.F.).

To lay out more of the spells, the illusions, the darknesses and the oppositions Priest explores would be to spoil the new reader's own journey of dislocation and necessary obfuscation.

If you are unfamiliar with Priest's work, an excellent place to start is The Glamour (GOLLANCZ S.F.) (which is where I first encountered Priest) To describe him as an SF writer - as often happens - is not completely right. To my mind, he is a kind of English Borges, a philiosopher metaphysician with a scarily challenging mind and imagination. What I particularly appreciate in this book, is a sense of light touch and playfulness, leavening the darkness
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It Grows On You...Then You Wonder Why It DIdn't Hit You., 12 Jun. 2013
By 
O. P. Dawson (London , United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Islanders (Hardcover)
'The Islanders' could have very easily fallen into the trap of one of those novels that ends up being far too clever for its own good. It avoids this by dint of Mr. Priest's gifted storytelling and austere prose. It is less a novel to be honest than an experience. Many of the characters would come across as two dimensional and flimsy in lesser works, but the characters (at least the specific ones we meet) are not really at the centre of the novel. What is at the centre? Hard to say. Initially taking the form of a travel guide to the fictional (or is it?) Dream Archipelago, it gradually splinters into a series of self contained vignettes which are all tantalisingly linked in some ethereal, tenuous way. I cannot really describe it further; but I will say that thanks to Priest's mastery of his form, this is a novel that will leave you reflective, thoughtful and just a little bit afraid of your own perception of reality.
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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Masterfully thought-provoking and intelligent., 28 Sept. 2011
By 
A. Whitehead "Werthead" (Colchester, Essex United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Islanders (Hardcover)
The Dream Archipelago is a vast string of thousands of islands, wrapping themselves around the world between two great continents. Some of them are deserts, some are home to great cities and others have been riddled with tunnels and turned into gigantic musical instruments. The Islanders is a gazetteer to the islands...and a murder story. It's also a musing on the nature of art and the artists who make it.

The Islanders is Christopher Priest's first novel in almost a decade, a fact which itself makes it one of the most interesting books to be released this year. His previous novel, The Separation, a stimulating and layered book about alternate versions of WWII, was one of the very finest novels of the 2000s. True to expectations, Priest has returned with a fiercely intelligent book that works on multiple different levels and which rewards close, thoughtful reading.

The Islanders initially appears to be a travel gazetteer, a Lonely Planet guide to a place that doesn't exist. Several islands are presented with geographic information, notes on places of interest and thoughts on locations to visit. Then we get entries which are short stories (sometimes only tangentially involving the island the entry is named after), or exchanges of correspondence between people on different islands. One entry is a succession of court and police documents revolving around a murder, followed by an extract from a much-later-published book that exonerates the murderer. Later entries in the book seem to clarify what really happened in this case, but in the process open up more questions than are answered. Oh, a key figure the gazetteer references frequently is revealed to be dead, despite him having produced an introduction to the book (apparently after reading it). Maybe he faked his death. Or this is a newer edition with the old introduction left intact. Or something else has happened.

The Islanders defies easy categorisation. It's not a novel in the traditional sense but it has an over-arcing storyline. It isn't a collection of short stories either, though it does contain several distinct and self-contained narratives. It isn't a companion or guidebook, though readers of Priest's earlier novel The Affirmation or short story collection The Dream Archipelago will find rewards in using it as such. It is hugely metafictional in that themes, tropes and ideas that Priest has been working on for years recur and are explored: doppelgangers, twins, conflicted memories, magicians, performance art and shifting realities feature and are referenced. At several points Priest seems to be commenting about his own works rather than the imaginary ones written by a protagonist...until one of those books turns out to be called The Affirmation, the same title as one of Priest's earlier, best novels. A character's suggestion that a work be split into four sections and then experienced in reverse order may be a clue as to how the novel should be read...but may be a red herring. Several key moments of wry humour (The Islanders is probably Priest's funniest book) suggest that we shouldn't be taking the endeavour seriously. Moments of dark, psychological horror suggest we should.

The novel embraces its gazetteer format. References to another island in an entry may be a clue that a vital piece of information can be found in the corresponding chapter about the other island. Sometimes this is the case, sometimes it isn't. Recurring names (some of them possibly aliases) and references to tunnels and havens provide links that bind the book together. The strangest chapter appears to be divorced from the rest of the book altogether, but subtle clues suggest curious relationships with the rest of the book and indeed with other of Priest's works (though foreknowledge of these is not required). The interlinking tapestry of references, names and events forms a puzzle that the reader is invited to try to piece together, except that the pieces don't always fit together and indeed, some appear to be missing altogether.

The Islanders (*****) is a weird book. It's also funny, warm and smart. It's also cold, alienating and dark. It's certainly self-contradictory. The only thing I can say with certainty about it is that it is about islands and the people who live on them, and if there is a better, more thought-provoking and rewarding novel published this year I will be surprised. The book is available now in the UK and on import in the USA.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A Guide through a Dreamy Archipelago, 26 April 2014
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This review is from: The Islanders (Kindle Edition)
The Dream Archipelago is a vast network of islands. The names of the islands are different depending on who you talk to, their very locations seem to twist and shift. Some islands have been sculpted into vast musical instruments, others are home to lethal creatures, others the playground for high society. Hot winds blow across archipelago and a war fought between two distant continents is played out across the waters. The Islanders serves as an untrustworthy but enticing guide to the islands, an intriguing multi-layered tale of a murder and the suspect legacy of its appealing but definitely untrustworthy narrator.

Whether this book could be called a novel is a matter for debate – the overall narrative spine of The Islanders is a visitor’s guide to some of the islands within the Dream Archipelago with a series of short, factually concise guides to a range of islands. At the same time, we become increasingly aware that this task is doomed to failure. Because of temporal anomalies that are now routinely used by aircraft to shorten flights, it is very difficult to accurately map large sections of the Archipelago. It gets worse – even trying to standardise the names of these islands proves a challenge as there are frequently anything up to three alternatives names for each one. And at least one of the poorer, less attractive islands appears to have appropriated the name of one of its more prosperous, popular neighbours in the hope of attracting a section of their tourist trade.

Who has embarked on this project of writing a gazetteer? We are never told. At least we are on solid ground at the beginning of the book – the famous novelist, Chaster Kammeston has written the Prologue – an oblique and rather qualified approval of the whole undertaking. However, one of the sections near the end of the book describes Chaster’s death – so how can he have read and approved of the manuscript sufficiently to have written the Prologue? Again, don’t expect Priest to provide any answers.

If the book has merely contained a series of tourist guide details about a bunch of non-existent islands, it would have joined my growing pile of DID NOT FINISH books on the grounds that Life is too short. But Priest is a fine writer – and mixed in amongst the clipped, impersonal island descriptions are a number of vivid characters, some amusing, some dark and some plain sad. A handful of these characters, including Chaster, constantly keep appearing and reappearing, building up a drifting, insubstantial plot that shifts as soon as you start to rely on it as the thread that will pull this book into a coherent whole. Even the chronology jumps around – nothing is certain.

So... did I enjoy this? Oh yes. Priest’s evocation of a vast, shifting population of islands that are resistant to any firm cataloguing is a temptingly attractive backdrop to his flickers of characterisation and drama. I will be thinking about this book for a long time to come.
10/10
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5.0 out of 5 stars A classic,,,, 31 Jan. 2014
By 
A. J. Poulter "AP" (Edinburgh) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Islanders (Hardcover)
I would recommend reading the short stories in The Dream Archipelago before attempting this book. They introduce the setting for the Dream Archipelago, a constellation of islands which stand off the coast of two warring blocs and which seem to have almost personalities of their own.

The Islanders initially appears as a travel guide, with entries on the various islands in the Dream Archipelago. Yet these entries tell us little that is not either confusing or contradictory. The names of the islands are particularly useless as they all seem to blend together, rather than stand out. The Guide as well soon becomes untrustworthy as its purported author appears as a character in some of its entries for islands. And there are a small cast of characters that re-appear in different entries, some more or less consistent than others in their motivations and actions. The strangest tale, which re-appears the most, is that of the apparent murder of a mime artist, done using a plate of glass in a theatre. Would something as unlikely as this actually occur?

Add some brilliant stories that plough very different furrows: a romance in a secret base of one of the Powers trying to use technology to map the islands (unsuccessfully), the awful wildlife on another island and the true nature of the old, empty towers on some islands, and you have a classic, about our world but not of it. Even the winds are different enough to have names in the local patois and a person (both revered and reviled) who builds 'sculptures' to channel them for artistic effects.

Every thing is named, but the names mean nothing,
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5.0 out of 5 stars 'Effective antidotes.. now exist.' Not your expectable beach read, 3 Aug. 2013
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This review is from: The Islanders (Hardcover)
Only nine reviews so far? Hmm. I think this book can safely be called unique. It's not for everyone; but if you can get through it you won't forget it

Nice trip? '[M]ost of the cells in the prison do command an attractive view across the harbour..' Wish you were here? This is the kind of thing that could give fantasy a good name. Devilish ingenious - is this what being trapped inside a computer game would feel like? - combining novelistic episodes with aspects of a geography, or do I mean topography, handbook ('people who ran wars needed maps'), an entymological treatise and a deliciously po-faced local guide ('the visitor will be delighted by the impeccably maintained Covenant Palace' - of course Jan Morris got there first; have you been to Hav?) this is a yarn or adventure of the highest originality. The reading experience is a little like a sauna, sashaying from steam-room to cold shower, or maybe a banquet of small plates, the spicier interspersed with the more soothing to the palate. The feisty obsessive who wants to turn 'every island in the Dream Archipelago into a gigantic wind-chime' has the ring (or chime) of authenticity. (This is, as it turns out, in large part a meditation about art. Art as metaphor in extremis.) 'Every day the tune would change, she said, but it would bring harmony to the entire world. She died not long after..' Does she owe something to the eccentric, not to say bonkers, Gilbert Clavel's Herzogian excavatory endeavours? (Siegfried Kracauer's essay Felsenwahn in Positano will fill the gap)

What's striking about this alternative world, what makes it so enchanting, is the apparent absence of TV - although there are laptops. Shopping and plumbing are likewise left magically imprecise; that's fiction for you. But then round about page 270 it all starts to get very silly - 'psychic emissions'? 'mysterious paw-prints'? I was going to say Dr Who territory (or M John Harrison?) but maybe you like Dr Who - by which time our critical faculties are presumed to be on hold/fried; cue the guy in the fright mask. The brief excursus on aviation (p246-7) is quite fascinating. Priest has clearly had fun with the nomenclature; whether classical, Channel-Islandy, Scandinavian or Scottish - Muriseay, Piqay, Ia, Olldus Precipitus, the girl's name Alvasund - it's a delight. The odd quirk ('expectable winds' and, later, 'expectable attractions' reads like a bad translation; one sentence on page 278 contains two 'invariably's; 'moment of rationality' on page 31 should surely be 'moment of lucidity') will no doubt be ironed out when the text is itself translated. The Japs should lap it up

The jacket design leaves something to be desired. All right, it's feeble. These things aren't easy, I know - but then neither is writing a book
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5.0 out of 5 stars Enchanting, 29 Dec. 2014
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This review is from: The Islanders (Kindle Edition)
Upon starting this book I immediately had to come back to the amazon reviews to check that I had not misunderstood what I had downloaded, as I was expecting a novel but instead was presented with a 'factual' travel guide! However, I found this format to be an intelligent and original way to present a story (or series of stories).

The chapters each centre around individual islands in The Dream Archipelago in a fictional world. Some chapters are informative, describing weather systems, locations, things to do etc., while others present a narrative taking place on the island in question. Some themes and characters are carried on throughout the chapters, while some chapters seem to be isolated islands in themselves.

The sub-stories are intensely captivating and the description of The Dream Archipelago is enchanting.
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, but...., 18 Oct. 2011
By 
K. Parr "soss parr" (liverpool, merseyside United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Islanders (Hardcover)
This is a thoroughly good read and always entertaining. But by the end I was feeling short-changed. Yes, I understand the multilayering, its cleverness, its self-referencing etc. etc. But it is a very fine line between referring back to previous books and short stories, and simply taking previous material and re-hashing it in a new form and calling it a novel. I think Priest just about gets away with it but it's a close-run thing!
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The Islanders
The Islanders by Christopher Priest (Paperback - 13 Sept. 2012)
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