BRIOHNY DOYLE The Island Will Sink. Reviewed by Folly Gleeson
A dystopian future, inventive language and an irresistible finish distinguish Briohny Doyle’s debut novel.
This is an exciting and fascinating read, a very clever speculative dystopian novel set in a not too distant future. The world faces environmental collapse and constant reminders and media messages in the form of cartoons featuring Pow-Pow the Panda enforce adherence to ecological directives. Cars are now powered by methane and usually not self-driven. Some people live in nomadic trailer packs: ‘… people for whom a stake in the new interurban lifestyle is not an option’. Some people, however, lead a life of controlled comfort.
Max Galleon, an affluent maker of totally immersive disaster movies, has the use of a corporate apartment in the Ecodome, a studio, and a home in the Bay Heights area. He and his family – wife Ellie, son Jonas and daughter Lilly – live lives organised by very advanced technology for optimum health and security. His apartment is programmed to control and serve Max’s best interests. It gives him appropriate nourishment and monitors his health and whether his actions conform to relevant eco laws.
His emotions and memories are archived by his office and his house. This is a very good thing, because his grasp of memory and reality seems tenuous at best. The fact that the house in Bay Heights ‘undergoes three year upgrades, adhering to eco architectural standards’ and is flood-proof, fire-proof, rape- and pillage-proof, underscores the fact that the world is in a very fragile ecological and social situation:
Some time in the past decade, a once sprawling and dangerous suburban wasteland was flattened into a quaint pastoral. Beyond the central district, wind farms glitter the clear felled land. Regeneration zones are demarcated with fluorescent borders. Tiny native saplings bend on their skinny trunks – easy prey for rogue gusts and small twisters.
Max’s films are like extreme blockbusters. People are totally immersed, wearing haptic outfits to watch them, and the experience is intense. As he says, his films provide experience beyond the limits of the basic human senses, and:
Disaster is something that we feel a primal attraction to. In uncertain times, experiencing disaster is cathartic.
So it appears that perhaps people watch his films in this time of extreme planetary fragility in order to cope with their fear.
The fact that Pitcairn Island is sinking contributes to that fear and Max begins to consider a movie about the island. ‘Tsunami’ is to be the first word of his new film.
The narrative is simple. In some ways the story is the exposition of a long indrawn breath as we wait to see if the world is ending as a result of Pitcairn sinking, the death of krill, Hurricane Teardrop or other catastrophic weather events. During this time there are many thought-provoking ideas raised – concerning, for example, the continuing existence of the class divide and whether humans, like the ants at the research station, have become too apathetic to act in spite of the obvious likelihood of the destruction of their world. And, most significantly, what happens to our sense of reality if technology controls our emotional and intellectual responses:
I splice disaster after disaster and insert them into the archive of my life until it seems that I have moved from calamitous event to calamitous event, in an ultimate hero’s journey. Satisfied, I fall back on the bed and into the calm dark of sleep. I dream someone else’s dreams.
These ideas are expressed in language richly imbued with the style of mass media. Whole sections are written like visually impressive shot sequences or vibrant film dialogue. There is a poetic quality to the language and my very favourite passage is:
I live in the flickering neon of the 128ox multi interface. I surf, I sample, I store, I skim, I direct, I occupy, I link, I associate, I pattern, I save, I load, I send, I generate, I log, I shuffle, I repeat, I edit, I option, I accept, I ignore, I hype, I share, I subscribe, I comment, I rate, I choose, I dwell.
Briohny Doyle’s excellent writing style is impressive. The environmental issues, philosophical ideas and visual descriptions, as well as the emotional relationships with the children, are put together with almost sculptural elegance and the novel builds to a very exciting and irresistible finish. This is the first novel to be published by The Lifted Brow and it must make them and the author very pleased.
Briohny Doyle The Island Will Sink The Lifted Brow 2016 PB 316pp $29.99
Folly Gleeson was a lecturer in Communication Studies. At present she enjoys her book club and reading history and fiction.
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