This is an engrossing and unusual novel set on an unnamed (UK) island the UK (wouldn’t I love to know the inspiration?) where a stranger is washed up on the shore and becomes a messianic figure to the beleaguered population. The story is told through the words of Bes, a dwarf who is, if not mute, disinclined to speak, although we don’t know why. I loved the opening where a deathbed scene which looked as if it might be heading for cliché is suddenly subverted and I also loved the narrator’s electric use of language which strangely didn’t seem at odds with his lack of a physical voice. In Bes’ eyes the island is bleak to the point of dystopian but although like the stranger John Love he is in many ways an outsider, he is also confidante for many of the local community who like to have a listener who does not deliver verbal judgements. Although it seems coincidental that he is the one to find John Love on the beach, the two of them make a good team and he gains a new status from their partnership. This is Bes’ story but also the story of a community and how any of us react to unexpected and inexplicable events. As John Love becomes a god-head, we see his powers are to a great extent granted by the need of the population to have someone or something to follow. As he leads them into progressively more bizarre projects, he eventually makes mistakes which cause his followers to doubt him, leading to a chain if events with a shocking conclusion. A large section of the book is about the gradual advancement of Love’s position and his relationship with Bes, and in the middle there was some loss of momentum, but towards the end there are some brilliant twists which certainly made me sit up. If you like your fiction literary, this is a recommended read.
It’s difficult for a short review to convey the quality of writing in this astonishing story, and I don’t want to spoil the book for new readers by giving too much away.
This is a story of a visitor to an island, a man called John Love. Love is a charismatic iconoclast and a catalyst of radical change. He seems both miraculous and a fraud in equal measure and the reader is always left guessing as to which is true.
The narrator is Bes, a mute dwarf with a wonderful turn of phrase and a sharp mind, if not tongue. It is Bes that first meets Love, and the relationship between the two is compelling. Chris Hill’s cast of characters is brilliantly portrayed, and he moves then around in the story like chess pieces across the board.
I have to agree that this has a hint of Lord of the Flies, but only a hint. This is not a story about a descent into internecine barbarity as in Lord of the Flies, but rather about a strange, sometimes brutally tragic catharsis that remoulds the inhabitants of the island.
I also found myself considering whether this is also one of the cleverest allegories I’ve read. Is it a portrayal in microcosm of the ills of our world and deliverance from them? Or perhaps an abstract picture of the complexities and turmoil that lives in us all, each of us being our own island. Read the story and decide for yourself.
The book is earthy but eloquent; the prose is sharp and witty without being pretentious. It has hints of Father Ted, The Wicker Man and even a whiff of Twin Peaks about it. And Chris Hill does “dark” so well. He is extremely skilful at leading the reader in one direction and then suddenly snapping them round and confronting them with truly disturbing and totally unexpected scenes.
I’m not surprised that Song of the Sea God was shortlisted for two major awards, and by rights it should be considered for adaption into a major film.
Song of the Sea God is a compelling tale that I highly recommend.
The synopsis and the earlier reviews cover quite well the content and many of the views I share about the book. Any review will not really do this book justice although I will try.
This is the most remarkable book I have read in a very very long time. Its not surprising that this book took Chris two years to write. Its a complete Feast of Words! The book was written in a very humourous style which made the chilling moments not appear so dark to the reader and almost an acceptable outcome. There is a hint of 'Lord of the Flies' about the book but only a hint! I feel the need to read this book a second time to fully appreciate its vast content. Chris has the ability to make the most mundane matters very interesting to read through his style of writing.
The main characters are Bes, a mute dwarf and John Love, the new arrival on the island. It is the interactions between these two which are the most interesting. Most of the other characters , Audrey, Barbara and Glazier to name but a few are peripheral to the first two mentioned.They play a part in the story but you do feel you don't really get to know them and that suits this book.
Without giving too much away , the ending is surprising, I almost thought there could only be one of two outcomes and that would be a Wacko style ending or one where John Love sneaks off the island in a cowardly manner which is what I was kind of expecting based on his character. There is also a surprising twist concerning the truth about Bes, the mute dwarf and narrator at the end of the book!!
I don't know if it was at the time, but the book deserves to be on the list for the Man Booker Prize. I also hope there's more books from Chris in the future!
This is writing at its best. I was immediately taken with the narrator 'Bes', a mute dwarf, and wondered how Chris Hill was going to be able to maintain this particular dialogue throughout the rest of the story. He achieves this exquisitely.
Bes makes wry, sometimes humorous, and poignant observations and it is quickly obvious that this is a highly intelligent, reliable narrator. As Bes divulges thoughts, the distinctive language is maintained and the observations are heightened by simile. This makes for smooth reading and sensory awareness throughout the book.
All the characters are vividly drawn by Chris Hill and each is believable. For instance, I enjoyed the sporadic times the slovenly policeman made an appearance.
The writing is such that the reader can 'see' the setting and enjoy a powerful sense of the place.
From the moment I read this book, I was transported to a wonderful world reminiscent of the weird and eccentric lives of famous literary gods that consume your every thought. Ensuring the reader steps into the pages, living the story as if it were your own life.
The first couple of chapters reminded me of Ponyo, albeit a children's fantasy story, the connection to the sea and the uncharted waters I haven't yet been brave enough to swim in, come to the fore. I was struck by how realistic and relevant Chris Hill makes the islanders and their way of life. Having visited many rural villages and islands I immediately felt at home as the voice of Bes came flooding through. Nodding away to myself as I agreed whole-heartedly with his descriptions of what some may think a banal existence.
Half way through - I became genuinely concerned for the safety of the characters as it became more and more apparent that all wasn't well - leading me to the conclusion that island life might not be as fantastically fulfilling as a tourist might expect. The imagery and descriptive text constantly keep you up to speed with the advances of Love and the now cult-ridden inhabitants. Very 'Wicker Man' in its prose, the climax does the novel justice in every way, leaving the reader slightly unnerved at the sadly inevitable end.
Everyone, whether they like it or not has a John Love in their life. Willy Wonka in his charisma with a little bit of Dr Who thrown in for magic and mystery. A person to be wary of but to be bewitched by all the same, making you asses your friendships and change your life for the better, or worse as the case was for some of the unsuspecting locals. I'm just glad that Chris Hill brought these characters to the world and made me empathise with, root for and crossly shout at as I made my way through the pages.
Best days I have spent reading in a long time. I am very much looking forward to reading more.
This book is a rich, dark feast of unusual characters and imagery, set in a wasteland-like island, which in its microcosm contains elements of life everywhere. When john Love is ship-wrecked on the island one stormy nigh,t he has a mesmeric effect on its inhabitants. Messiah, conman or madman? Bes, the dumb dwarf who narrates the story is unsure exactly what Love is but is as in his thrall as the others. Chris Hill examines the crowd mentality and people's need to believe in "something" in a series of macabre events which are as inevitable as they are fascinating. This is not a book for those who enjoy a simple story with a happy ending. What it is, is extremely well-written, cliche-free and unique. Chris Hill has created a book which challenges the reader to think deeply and which is worth reading more than once.
The beautiful cover and the title of Song of the Sea God initially drew me to want to read it, and I am really glad I did. An unusual story, like nothing I have read before and strangely compelling, like going on a magical mystery tour... It's as though Chris Hill casts some kind of subconscious spell on you and you surrender to the story, unable to leave until you are done. I love the way Chris can write about everything he sees and feels in this book with such eloquence. As a writer, I see and feel too, but most of the words fail me. In comparison, I have no language to express my emotions; they stay inside me, never to see the light of day. As I read Song of the Sea God, I became more and more humbled... every nuance is there, nothing is missed. This man can write and beautifully too!
I was carried along by the ebb and flow of the book, Song of the Sea God, by Chris Hill. It is almost cinematic in feeling with its vivid description of a remote English island and its bleak inhabitants. Hill's command of dialogue breathes life into the characters so much that you honestly feel that you know a few of them, if not all of them. It is a dark novel filled with funny moments that make the juxtaposition of hope with hopelessness very real.
The story is narrated through Bes, who is complex in simplicity. Bes is a mute dwarf who encounters a beautifully enigmatic stranger who mysteriously drifts to this remote island. The islanders all seem pathetically on the brink of something intangible. They are like so much driftwood aimlessly going about their mediocre lives until John Love shows up. All of a sudden, it is as if they all want to believe that they are capable of more. Their needs become the energy that fuels this stranger who captivates them with his promises. In an effort to achieve something good happening to them, the town will their lives to John Love, who goes from wanting to be their healer, to saviour to messiah. The book rises and falls with beauty and horror with each turn of the page. Like the weather, it is an ever-changing pace that pulls and pushes you from peace to friction until the stunning and unfathomable conclusion. This is not a holiday book. This should be read in selfish comfort with a glass of port.
Chris's book is so darkly intriguing that it causes you to look away, shudder, gasp but definitely keep reading. It pulls you in deeper and deeper and the deeper you go, the more uncomfortable it gets. It is most definitely borne out of modern literary craft and it is worth indulging in if only for the cleverly witty and intelligent quips and metaphors. I reached the end almost considering turning back to the start for second helpings just to savour the bits I hadn't appreciated the first time.
Just finished song of the sea god .... Cracking read ... a seamless drop back and forth in styles with rye and respectful nods to influence ....try and imagine the diversity of obscure American folk groups, Anthony Shaffer or the Manic Street Preachers!! Modern twists of comedy drenched in a beautifully classic style of presentation, a bit of an Irvine Welch meets George Eliot. Most chapters are entertaining and even laugh out loud, but then slide swiftly into the unanticipated and macabre. A steady read for the book shy like me, but there's plenty in there for the well read too. A subtle approach to the convoluted plot idea, much more like a Shakespearian aside than a chubby girl on Pontins factor trying to mimic Beyonce. This would make a great movie incidentally in this modern era of the dark comic twist.