... beautifully and sparingly constructed. The sections in the narrative present are a tactile evocation of the natural and material world around these two men; and in the flashbacks to Samuel’s coming-of-age and then torturous captivity, Jennings renders a gritty and stripped-down portrait of the bleak family dynamics and social conditions that made him who he is ... In Jennings’s hands, this antihero’s enmeshment in his own failures has a textured credibility that’s hard to look away from. At every turn he disappoints himself, as well as others; at every turn these disappointments settle atop each other like the bodies he buries beneath the stones ... a character study with the cross-cultural resilience of a fable, like Kobo Abe’s The Woman in the Dunes, operating on personal and symbolic planes at the same time ... No plot summary can do justice to a story woven this carefully, whose strength lies in its deliberate pacing and sharp dispensation of detail. Samuel is as real as a shaking hand.
... taut, tenebrous ... The claustrophobia of its setting is compounded by its timeframe, the main action taking place over just four days, yet its themes are expansive. Here is a tragic tale that grapples with colonialism, xenophobia and political resistance, along with the plight of displaced peoples ... Jennings, a Cape Town millennial, is a published poet, and flashes of linguistic brio enliven a narrative that’s largely characterised by immense weariness of both body and soul. Other aspects of her identity – notably, her whiteness – complicate her endeavour ... its deft execution and the seriousness of its political engagement serve as a potent reminder of all that such titles add to the literary ecosystem. Those same qualities should also win it readers well beyond awards season.
... thoroughly absorbing ... An Island’s principal action occurs over four days, yet within that timescale Jennings manages to compress the turbulent history of an unnamed African country and its disastrous effects on the life of one man, Samuel ... this is a book of incremental revelations and insoluble ambiguities ... Jennings creates an artful balance between the tense claustrophobia of the island and Samuel’s backstory and subsequent self-loathing ... a small but powerful book, with the reach of a more capacious work, compounding merciless political critique and allegory rendered in tender prose.
Much of the story reads like an allegory, but Jennings, despite her insight, never implies that Samuel's actions are generalizable to a nation. This is simply how isolation, humiliation and disappointment at the hands of friends, family and institutions crafted one man.
This is a book that gives us faith that the Booker prize judges are doing their job, for two reasons. The first is that this is the dark horse of the longlist, released quietly by a micro-publisher, unreviewed in the press until now, so it shows the judges aren’t just guided by big names ... All this is reported in a dry style — even the tragedy is understated — where the reader has to do a lot of the work ... Jennings’s prose has less texture, with no sentences to underline. Instead it relies on the mystery of the strange man arriving at the lighthouse to keep us reading. Is that enough? ... The man makes Samuel’s life complicated, but, bit by bit as the past comes in, we find that it used to be much more complicated, and the book moves, gradually and then suddenly, from stillness to drama. And this is the second validation for the Booker jury; they definitely read the books all the way through, because An Island gets better as it goes on ... This is not, as you may have gathered, a cheerful book; it’s full of the tragedy of a place where people are dispensable. But it’s a chewy, satisfying meal, with flavours worth waiting for, even if they take time to develop.
... self-contained and at times uncomfortable territory. A lean fable of trauma, dispossession and survival, it draws us in but offers little hope ... His back story – a generic one of poverty, imprisonment and torture – is given to us in a series of swift flashbacks that can sometimes feel oddly perfunctory: the real heft of Jennings’s novel lies in the febrile, slowly building crisis of an island-bound narrative that is set in the present and unfolds over only four days ... If this bleak, claustrophobic novel has a weakness, it doesn’t lie in its pessimism but in its willingness to elide complex historical questions in a way that suggests so much and nothing in particular. The book’s strengths, however, are substantial, not least its acceptance of the lethal twin human longings for power and ownership.