Throughout the novel Donoghue provides detailed descriptions of the natural world and the world of work: how vellum and quills are made, how an altar, a cross, a hut is built, how Cormac makes compost and grows a tiny garden, how Trian baits his line and fishes, how birds are caught and cleaned and cooked...It’s clear that Donoghue did her research and these passages will be of great interest to those who love this type of historical detail...Reading about the birds and dolphins in huge crowds, the great Auks (long extinct), and the contrast between Tristan’s regret and the Prior’s arrogance, I saw a distinct symbol of our broader arrogance in the destruction of our natural environment...This is a powerful read with careful attention paid to balancing natural and historical detail with a broader exploration of faith, madness, survival, and what it means to be human.
Donoghue's characterizations of the three men, her vivid imagining of the measures they must take to survive, and her beautiful descriptions of the landscape and wildlife — puffins galore — make this book readable even for those who don't care much about medieval Christianity ... A strange turn of events having to do with Trian's secret brings the book to its climax. Donoghue is good at endings, as readers of Room know, and here again she metes out narrative justice with a firm hand.
Emma Donoghue’s latest novel takes a disenchanted view ... Set in the seventh century, it strips away the misty hagiography shrouding this period, dispensing with saints and scholars in favour of striving and imperfect humans. Though it retains some of the starkness and figurative grandeur of mythology, this is a tale that entertains no illusions ... Donoghue wrings plenty of narrative sustenance from her barren landscape ... She returns to the radical minimalism of 2010’s Room. Indeed, the two works share striking formal similarities: two characters struggle to preserve their humanity in utter isolation while appeasing an implacable captor ... Still, many writers rework familiar materials with potent results. This is a miniature created with a muted palette, sombre in aspect but crowded with quietly beautiful details.
... very few readers have been praying for a novel like this. But Haven creates an eerie, meditative atmosphere that should resonate with anyone willing to think deeply about the blessings and costs of devoting one’s life to a transcendent cause ... The drama of this novel accumulates slowly, like the fresh water in their cistern. The challenges — what to eat, where to sleep — are exacerbated by Artt’s fanatical insistence that they immediately build a stone church and begin copying Bibles. The result is a story of survival trapped in a very small space, completely cut off from the world: Room with a view ... Donoghue works subtly in the margins, letting these three men evolve into their distinct roles. Their foolish destruction of the island’s resources will resonate with contemporary readers, but she refuses to reduce these characters to symbols of modern exigencies. Her narration stays close to their minds, which are about as free of sin as this story is of irony ... The effect is transporting, sometimes unsettling and eventually shocking. Trian’s affection for his companions, the birds, the island — everything — is so sweet and vulnerable that tragedy starts to haunt these pages like the coming winter ... My only substantial criticism of Haven sounds more harsh than I mean it to: This novel could have been a classic short story. Donoghue’s prose is too attentive to the craggy beauty of the island and the flutterings of Trian’s heart to suggest the book is padded. But the story’s tight focus; its single, steadily rising arc; and especially its walloping conclusion would have ensured a short-story version Haven the kind of immortality that Artt can only dream about.
The medieval monastic ideal of ora et labora (prayer and work) makes for a surprisingly compelling and suspenseful adventure in the hands of Donoghue, who excels at creating characters who make the best of bad situations, finding transcendence in the smallest details of daily life ... In fact, this short novel is really a parable about the narcissism of the religious fanatic, and the contrasting endurance of human communities. The three monks represent the conflicting religious imperatives of faith versus works in the most vivid way possible, although there’s no doubt which side we’re meant to sympathize with more. The austere beauties of Skellig Michael make the island itself a fourth character, earning this book a place among classics of ecological fiction.
... brooding, dreamlike ... this latest was a lockdown project, albeit planned pre-Covid. That perhaps accounts for the vivid sense that time is melting and days are merging ... Though this is a text replete with religious fable, it’s in descriptions of the physical world that Donoghue’s prose soars and the narrative’s claustrophobia is alleviated. Likewise, among themes that include isolation and devotion, its ecological warnings are its most resonant ... While Haven certainly isn’t her most accessible novel, a flinty kind of hope brightens its satisfying ending. What the reader is likely to take away, however, is the image of a bleak place made still bleaker by human intervention. That, and a raft of early medieval survival hacks.
Its setting proves to be as stark and claustrophobic as that of her celebrated Room ... Donoghue excels in creating not just a world but a worldview that is far removed from our own ... The one false note in the book is the eleventh-hour revelation of Trian’s androgyny, which serves little purpose and seems sensational. Otherwise, this is a bold, thoughtful novel, whose austerity matches its setting.
Most of Haven revolves around the quietly enthralling details of the monks’ hard-won survival: the collecting of rainwater, the fashioning of ink and quills for the copying of holy texts that is to be their legacy, the building of a midden, the making of tallow for candles ... The novel’s subtle, vibrating tension lies in the lag with which Trian’s and Cormac’s feelings about Artt catch up to our own — right from the get-go we want to toss this sadistic, tyrannical know-it-all off a cliff ... Even as these frustrations inexorably build, it’s unclear where it’s all going until basically the end, when an incident catalytically forces resolution. It’s a spoiler, so suffice it to say will is involved. God’s? Perhaps. Emma Donoghue’s, definitely.
... vivid ... The concise novel that follows, a blend of survival story, an elaboration of a tense psychological triangle and an exploration of charisma and hubris, tells the story of the three men’s first few months as castaways ... Every arduous gain they make is minutely detailed, their sporadic triumphs always feeling inadequate to the challenge of their inhospitable surroundings ... It is, however, the dynamics of this tiny, ill-assorted trio that really fascinate us, and they provide scope for an understated commentary on the complex dangers of religious hierarchy ... The close third-person narration allows Donoghue to shift between the characters to particularly moving effect.
In classic Donoghue narrative style, it all unfolds in a confined space under cramped conditions ... As the summer turns to fall and the conditions on the island deteriorate, the impossible task of trying to sustain life takes its harsh toll on the physical and mental state of the men, convincingly conveyed by Donoghue’s raw descriptions and her exceptional skill with emotionally authentic dialogue ... Haven’s plot action is limited, allowing instead for the story’s focus to be placed fully on the volatile dynamic escalating between the three characters as they confront life-threatening circumstances. The novel’s tension reaches its peak with the painful revelation of Trian’s secret, propelling the narrative to its dramatic if predictable end. Most striking in Haven’s conclusion is the emergence of Cormac—a self-effacing latecomer to Christianity—as the real leader and man of God, and a pointed message from Donoghue about what 'true fellowship' really means in the face of Artt’s religious fanaticism.
a... tremendously real imagining of the experiences of the first three people to land on Skellig Michael in about AD 600 ... Donoghue notes in an afterword that Covid prevented her from visiting the island, but you wouldn’t know it from the novel. Her depictions of the natural world are brilliantly real ... If the setting is centuries ago, the themes of her book feel ultra-modern, though to say too much about this would amount to a plot spoiler ... Donoghue is always writing about outsiders in her fiction, and this new book, with all its painstaking delineation of monastic life and spirituality, is no exception ... As befitting learned men, the tone is ruminative, the prose considered and rich with biblical imagery ... Life on Skellig is relentless, at times monotonous, but her skilled character creation adds vibrancy ... Ultimately, Haven is a tense portrait of two good men trapped on an island with a third who thinks himself a saint.
In Emma Donoghue's deliciously claustrophobic 12th novel, Haven, three seventh-century monks set sail for an island off the coast of Ireland...Their project of founding a new monastery will be beset by scarcity, personality clashes and everyday disasters...Donoghue excels at creating isolated atmospheres and examining the dynamic of small casts of characters...Here, the island is a microcosm where conflicts flare...Haven may be just one letter away from heaven, but this island community looks less like either and more like a prison as time goes on...A powerful study of religious obsession.
... perhaps the shortest Emma Donoghue book I’ve ever read. Compared to long sagas such as Frog Music and Room, it’s a hop, skip and a jump lengthwise but packs in her trademark sense of worldbuilding and character observation, making it a slow read. But if you’re a fan, then it provides more of the same dark, dramatic Donoghue you like ... As always, Donoghue leans heavily on character studies and interpersonal conflict to make her point about religion, isolation, and human desire. This is a deep, dark book, and the love story is between our monks and God – and/or the real, waking world ... This is not a romantic book, and it’s not a sweet book. These monks do terrible things to each other, and most of the heavy stuff is meted out by Arrt, for whom there is no wickedness too small. He is a God-man and the monks are bound via vows of silence and obedience to him, until he does something unforgivable and they must forsake him. The moral message is blunt and obvious ... If you enjoy any of Donoghue’s previous books, you’ll love Haven, but be prepared for ambiguity, darkness, and some good old fashioned introspection.
Explores the mix of superstition, lore, faith and basic need that accompanies humanity on a mission. As in her hit bestseller, Room, Donoghue's powers of description expand small, confined spaces until they contain worlds of universal depth ... Haven sensitively considers hubris, humility and selfishness, who God is and how he might interact with his creation ... The story's pace is a slow, intriguing burn, building enjoyably until a somewhat jarring climax and disappointing denouement. Shock-value shift aside, Donoghue's talent for storytelling captivates ... Thoughtful and thought-provoking, Haven captures the gulf that can grow—especially during times of hardship—between what we say we believe and how we live.
... extraordinary ... Donoghue captures the divergence between goodness and holiness brilliantly in a character who is part horrible boss and part tyrannical captor ... While Haven does not shy from the punishing reality of life on Skellig Michael, there are moments of beauty and great humanity. The descriptions of the island’s nature are sublime, and Trian’s realisation of his own faith amid a paradise of wildlife is deeply moving ... Donoghue has created a monster in the unwavering Artt, although it is the timeless humanity and mercy of Cormac and Trian that blew me away time and again. I didn’t know quite what to expect from Haven but it wasn’t the satisfying and thought-provoking book that I read. Unforgiving in places, yes, but heavens it’s good.
Though the religious fervour depicted in Haven is rather mystifying to this agnostic reader, it is a subject Emma Donoghue – the author of the Booker-shortlisted novel Room – explores deeply. The protagonists’ daily lives are structured around prayer (once every three or four hours!), building the church and writing holy books – all for the glory of God. What results is an intense and disturbing novel of survival with an ending that seems unavoidable.
Donoghue’s prose glimmers with images of the pristine natural world, including many varieties of sea birds...As always, Donoghue extracts realistic emotions from characters interacting within close quarters and delicately explores the demands of faith...This evocative historical novel also works as a cautionary tale about the dangers of religious control...Donoghue’s readers and all lovers of thought-provoking literary fiction will be looking for this quietly dramatic tale.
Three monks seek refuge from worldly temptation on a remote island off the Irish coast...Taking one of her regular breaks from contemporary fiction, Donoghue has left behind none of her ability to spin a compelling story and people it with sharp characterizations...Generating narrative tension from a minimum of action, Donoghue brings the monks’ conflicts to a climax when Trian falls ill and a long-kept secret is revealed...Reminiscent of Room (2010) in its portrayal of fraught interactions in a confined space, this medieval excursion lacks its bestselling predecessor’s broad appeal, but the author’s more adventurous fans will appreciate her skilled handling of challenging material...More fine work from the talented Donoghue.