"A novel examining the long, complicit aftermath of colonialism, told through the summer of 1979 and a remote island in the west of Ireland, one of the last places where people speak everyday Irish, and two men who come to experience it"--
The book opens with Mr. Lloyd, an English artist, heading out to sea in a fragile hand-rowed currach. His destination is a remote island of only 92 inhabitants off the west coast of Ireland. His aim is to spend the summer of 1979 painting cliffs...Magee skillfully traces the disintegration of old certainties and best-laid plans on the island...Interspersed with this main narrative are snapshots of a bigger, more devastating picture, that of Northern Ireland engulfed by sectarian violence...Short, sobering reportage of tit-for-tat atrocities read like a catalog of brutality...Killings become so frequent that it isn’t long before news of them radiates down to the island in a series of shock waves that infuse conversations and inform opinions...Magee tells her tale in other interesting ways...Her characters’ dialogue is terse and direct...Some inner thoughts are relayed as streams of consciousness, others as snatches of verse: 'isolated beauty / continent’s outpost / empire’s edge'... From this patchwork prose, Magee weaves a vivid, thought-provoking novel about language, art, colonialism and the Troubles.
Following in the literary tradition of Synge, Trevor and Tóibín, The Colony portrays Irish lives cornered by the dead weight of tradition...Characters do very little very slowly and discontents are expressed sardonically or obliquely, if at all...Naturally, there’s also an equally traditional smattering of merciless killing and colonising foreigners...And Magee’s setting is traditionally remote, an Atlantic island off Ireland’s west coast, three miles long, with its 1979 population now down to double figures...Magee’s prose is always luminous, lyrical and pungent: sometimes sliding into vertical columns of one-word paragraphs, sometimes dwelling on the minutiae of rabbit gutting or the smell of Prussian blue, and yet always remaining ever so slightly distanced...And it would be wrong to say the book rises to a climax: in true Irish tradition, the story shrinks back to its status quo ante...Lloyd sails back 'to Freud, to Auerbach, to Bacon,' JP’s professorship is in the bag and that very special Irish melancholy settles again over the island.
What a relief it is to find a novel that treats the reader as a grown-up, that is fresh without chasing literary fashion, provocative but not shouty, and idiosyncratic but fully satisfying from the strange comedy of its opening pages to its decisive conclusion ... One of The Colony’s greatest qualities is how Magee keeps herself out of the story — we never feel her thumb on the scales — so we get to know the islanders not only slowly, but deeply ... will not appeal to everyone — strong flavors never do. The violence is upsetting, the two men maddening. Some may find the story slow, but even when not much happens, Magee is tightening the net towards a sequence of confrontations. Aside from the central themes, her book contains multitudes — on families, on men and women, on rural communities — with much of it just visible on the surface, like the flicker of a smile or a shark in the water.