Ghosh is mindful of his task as a novelist—to entertain. The confidence with which he shapes a good, old-fashioned diversion around these particular poles is instructive. Escapism has its virtues, but a book unafraid of ideas can be bracing ... Ghosh is not exactly subtle about stating his intention here, but sometimes a little clarity is nice ... The feat of Ghosh’s book is in showing us that 2019 is as bizarre and incomprehensible as the 17th-century world ... Ghosh is a practiced and capable writer; by the seventh page, we’re deep into Bengali folklore, and willing to accept this as a novelistic subject. That Ghosh is able to sustain the book’s momentum when its primary inquiry is so cerebral is no mean feat. The novel made me think of A.S. Byatt’s Possession, or Tom Stoppard’s best plays, texts that treat academic pursuit as something thrilling ... Subtlety has its virtues, but the authorial heavy hand does not grate. Of course, this is what the headlines are like these days. The truth is stranger than fiction, and Gun Island is a novel for our times.
Gun Island brims with implausibility; outlandish coincidences and chance meetings blend with ancient myth and folklore, tales of heroism and the supernatural set in a contemporary world disrupted by the constant migrations of humans and animals ... Gun Island...is keen to play with its own ridiculousness; as Deen and the professor slowly disinter the likely origins of the novel’s founding myth, their grandiose speculations often call to mind the satirical portrayal of the academic world that one might find in a David Lodge novel. Turn the page, though, and a king cobra is about to strike, or a block of masonry to fall from a building and narrowly miss one or other of our principals. If Gun Island can at times feel a touch breathless...then its underpinning is solid. Amid the freak cyclones and oxygen-starved waters comes the story – or stories – of migration across the ages; tales of escapology, of deprivation and persecution, of impossible yearnings for a new world that bring us, inexorably, to the terrified refugees on the Mediterranean. Which is, perhaps, Ghosh’s essential point; a shaggy dog story can take a very roundabout path towards reality, but it will get there in the end. It has to, or we’re all doomed.
Flitting across continents, Ghosh deftly summons up a pungent sense of place, whether in the mangrove swamps of Bengal or the misty, cobbled streets of Venice. The past lurks convincingly in the present. However, you can’t help feeling bashed over the head by all the talk of cyclones, wildfires, oceanic dead zones, dolphin beachings and flooding crises. And with such a host of characters representing opinions or merely in place to move the plot along, the narrative, and particularly the dialogue, are often stilted. As such, sadly, is more a fusillade of finger-wagging than a display of sniper-like precision.
... demonstrates Ghosh’s belief that the improbable has a place in serious literary fiction. And in teaming this with the subject of climate change, he has not held back ... A flurry of coincidences and spooky interventions do the work of an actual plot, and the supporting characters are script ready ... This kitchen sink approach is either a brave experiment in bringing climate change to action-adventure readers or an overwrought provocation, a dialectic an experienced writer like Ghosh probably intends, since in the course of his narrative he makes reference to jatra, a style of Indian performance art that goes on 'for hours with absurdly costumed figures screeching in falsetto voices' ... Ghosh challenges the writers among us to remember that throughout history we have dealt with crises by telling ourselves stories. Climate change might be our successor to the Black Death: We may have to use all our inventive ability, rational and magical, to think our way out of it.
...a mad, mystical migration saga ...In his non-fiction book The Great Derangement, Ghosh argued that the realist novel is too bourgeois a form to deal with climate catastrophe ... Here then is his attempt to find a new form for the Anthropocene era. You might call it deranged realism ... At times, the combination of mystical symbols and bad dialogue...call to mind a Bengali Da Vinci Code. Tintin is never far away either: all those kindly professors and hair-raising encounters with wildlife. But Gun Island is a book of reckless and persuasive scope, a huge, rambunctious reckoning with our environmental declension. Ghosh draws strong parallels between human and animal displacement, as refugee boats and migrating whales meet in the ocean. It’s hard to think of a literary novel since Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair that abounds so unashamedly in miracles. Both books challenge notions of what is plausible in realist fiction. If it is a failure, then it fails beguilingly.
...not his best ... Spanning several continents, this novel is stuffed to bursting with ideas about climate change, migration, the interconnectivity of past and present and the way ancient stories can have a powerfully imaginative impact on an individual consciousness. But it’s also a fussily written, hydra-headed mess of madly proliferating, credulity-stretching plot points.
Bad dreams, divinations, accidents, shamans, angels and ghosts—Ghosh is willing to pursue all means to make his quarrel with realism explicit ... In Gun Island, Ghosh doesn’t attempt to convince anyone. Extreme events just keep happening. Must an announcement of raging wildfires be made at the exact moment that a climate-change-denier is delivering his spiel? Does a character need to have fitful visions of the future after a snakebite? Ghosh is often unsure of the direction in which to steer the novel ... All of this makes Gun Island not just a disappointing story, but also a weak polemic ...a confused outburst. If there is a case to be made against industrial modernity, it cannot be made by Deen, whose perpetual astonishment seems more improbable than any environmental disaster portrayed in the novel ... If novels are to convey the likelihood of more catastrophic events, the reader has to first feel the pressure on the level of the sentence ... As a creative endeavor, Gun Island just doesn’t dare enough. Ghosh appears to shrink from its imaginative possibilities ... Ghosh, as a conscientious citizen of this beleaguered planet, always has his ear to the ground for stories. But Ghosh, the novelist, isn’t listening.
...a curious affair that, for all the travelling at play, is almost impressively static and devoid of suspense. What it offers instead is a tender, attentive and engaging account of the ways in which an individual sensibility might be altered by ironies of history, chance alliances and climatological mutations ... There are shortcomings. Deen is given a voice that sometimes feels as if it is about to buckle from a surfeit of literary dead freight ... And certain characters, especially the women, feel as if they have found their way on to the page for the sole purpose of affording Deen a moment of reflective resonance. But on the whole, Gun Island is a rich and rewarding novel that reaffirms the transformative power of topographical and human connection, and registers the rhythms of the quiet and the unquiet life.
How can novelists address climate change without turning their books into seminars? Mr. Ghosh’s neat trick is to fold the subject into a juicy (if somewhat breathless) academic mystery of the sort popularized by Umberto Eco. The difference is that Deen’s discoveries don’t expose some all-explanatory conspiracy but rather a deeper sense of uncertainty and disorder. The more puzzle pieces he fits together, the more chaos he reveals—which makes for an accurate depiction of the world as we know it.
On the face of it, this work offers a continuity of many of Ghosh’s concerns in his fiction, among them memory...history...ecology...and the inexplicable...It would not be wrong to say that all these elements make Gun Island what it is, the intersection of individual trajectories with larger forces affecting the world. And yet, this is not a novel that can be appreciated for its delineation of character or breathtaking plot or an engrossingly rich experience that you emerge from only when it’s all over. No, it is a work that you must take a break from frequently to think about unfamiliar things, process new ideas, challenge your own understanding of life ... Climate change, present and past, is the glue in this novel, sticking together different geographies—and histories—around the world ... There is much in this novel that is being mirrored by the present-day reality—or perhaps it is the novel that is the mirror. In that sense, reading the book is never quite an escape or temporary exit from the world out there, for we have no choice but to inhabit both.
...an entertaining fable about a world deranged by ecological depredation, environmental refugees, raging wildfires and ravaged wildlife ... grand ideas make Ghosh catnip for academics. But his novel struggles to bear the load of so many ideas, so much knowledge, from the history of Venetian printing to the etymology of Arabic place-names. It is obvious that Ghosh spent the past few years lecturing ... The well-researched neatness is deadening. What’s missing is a sense of entropy, of life’s unpredictability and chaos. For example, although twists and turns abound in the plot, we are never surprised by any of Ghosh’s characters ... Vitality is equally absent from the sentences that once leavened Ghosh’s learning ... his style has evidently ebbed, dammed up by boulders of fact. Nevertheless, it’s fitting that an author who avows the limits of knowledge should himself run up against the limits of his own knowledge-saturated style. Even the writer’s failings demonstrate the very truth of what he is writing about.
Gun Island travels, with characteristic flamboyance, from the Sundarbans to Venice, arches over the past and the present, tangles myth with fact to bring home to readers that the world as we know it is in the grip of unprecedented change and in our wilful ignoring of it possibly lies our end ... Gun Island has bits of everything—magic, myth, history, science, zoology, etymology. It’s about climate change, but suddenly it’s also about migration and trafficking, and with the feeblest linkages. The result is not so much a Persian carpet as a patchwork quilt ... By committing himself so strongly to writing an ‘environmental’ novel, Ghosh has fallen foul ... At every turn, his theme dominates, overriding the storytelling ... Lives and events don’t evolve with inevitability, but are forced forward, obliged to make a point ... Ghosh tries to draw upon the surreal but with characters who are too tepid to pull it off. His bet on the unknown is half-hearted, always hedged by data and factoids ... Ghosh...really needs to brush up his magic spells.
Gun Island attempts to bring a collective, cosmopolitan consciousness to a literary form more often focused on personal quests and conflicts ... Ghosh throws California wildfires, Venetian-lagoon tornadoes, wild coincidences and a ghost or two into his narrative. As he ponders the threats to our planet, he gives us vivid setpieces...and food for thought ... Ghosh clearly wants to deliver fiction that awakens his readers to climate-change perils ... But in focusing so heavily on well-intentioned characters keenly aware of the crisis our planet faces, Gun Island gives short shrift to key players in this downward global spiral.
Gun Island is a novel about migration – as all climate fiction must be ... here dolphin pods beach themselves, snakes and spiders are forced out of their habitats, and humans (and other animals) embark on perilous journeys across the globe ... All the while Ghosh takes aim at those he believes responsible for waging a battle between 'profit and nature' ... The failure to listen to others, and to act on what we learn, is central to Ghosh’s book. Why, imperilled as we are, do we not respond in ways that science tells us to? ... The ambition and complexity of Ghosh’s novel means that at times it can feel weighed down by information. This is particularly true of Cinta, on whom much of the burden of explication falls. More subtly worked in is Ghosh’s theme of linguistic migration...
Reality and illusion collide in this mythic, fluidly written work, which will appeal to readers who will appreciate being carried along by Ghosh’s imaginative prose and occasionally disconnected story lines.
Deen Datta, a Bengali American rare-books and antiquities dealer, finds himself drawn into an unforeseen, bafflingly mystical, and radically transformative adventure ... Ghosh seductively combines old-fashioned storytelling with keen research and a socially conscious sensibility to enthralling and piquantly enlightening affect.
Much of Deen’s story is a fictional rejoinder to Ghosh’s 2016 polemic, The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable, and, as with that book, blends elements of journalism, folklore, science, and history to describe a world on the verge of catastrophe—and one in which people, in the end, have nowhere to go. Ghosh’s story, involving and intricate, speaks urgently to a time growing ever more perilous.