In this story of adventure and survival from the New York Times bestselling author of Room, three men vow to leave the world behind them as they set out in a small boat for an island their leader has seen in a dream, with only faith to guide them.
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.