Founded by the mysterious genius known as the Designer, the archipelago of Prospera lies hidden from the horrors of a deteriorating outside world. In this island paradise, Prospera's lucky citizens enjoy long, fulfilling lives until the monitors embedded in their forearms, meant to measure their physical health and psychological well-being, fall below 10 percent. Then they retire themselves, embarking on a ferry ride to the island known as the Nursery, where their failing bodies are renewed, their memories are wiped clean, and they are readied to restart life afresh. Proctor Bennett has a satisfying career as a ferryman, gently shepherding people through the retirement process. But all is not well with Proctor. For one thing, he's been dreaming—which is supposed to be impossible in Prospera. For another, his monitor percentage has begun to drop alarmingly fast. And then comes the day he is summoned to retire his own father, who gives him a disturbing and cryptic message before being wrestled onto the ferry. Soon Proctor finds himself questioning everything he once believed, entangled with a much bigger cause than he realized—and on a desperate mission to uncover the truth.
The narration’s pleasingly sharp details...are some of the many appealing things about The Ferryman, a 538-page book that clips along as effortlessly as you might scroll through a well-curated Instagram feed. There’s something mildly intoxicating, in fact, about entering this utopia, called Prospera, because Cronin’s shrewd world-building allows us to have it both ways ... A careful book with a limited cast, animated by the bonds of parental and romantic love. An undercurrent of grief, organized around a pure, almost unobjectionable family tragedy, forms the book’s emotional core, and the scenes of fatherly doting that recur throughout are so pitch-perfect that they verge at times on treacle. At the same time, the plot features car chases, shootouts, the infiltration of a government building and a twist that completely alters the frame of the story precisely two-thirds of the way through ... Occasionally, the seams show. Cronin’s prose is mostly lucid and considered, but certain patches of overwriting read like attempts to inject unnecessary grandeur into the proceedings ... The twist, after an initial frisson of insight, is disappointingly reminiscent of more than one blockbuster sci-fi movie released in the past two decades, and Cronin’s methodical explanations still aren’t enough to quell lingering questions about how exactly it all works. But his nods to Shakespeare hint at bigger themes ... Maybe this is asking too much of a story meant to engross and entertain, which its satisfying epilogue, in particular, does in spades. The novel delivers everything you’d want from your nightly dreams: an anodyne, occasionally beautiful diversion, rife with patterns and the suggestion of deeper truth that vanishes as soon as you lift your eyes from the last page.
The pace of the book is relentless. Although the plot is bloated, The Ferryman proves hard to resist as a feat of addictive storytelling. As each layer of the story’s onion is sliced open, what lies beneath might be predictable but remains intriguing. Mr. Cronin’s constant descriptions of women’s looks in relation to their age are primeval at best, but if you can get over that The Ferryman is an adventure read rich with ships that sail both the oceans and the stars.
To get through this chaotic story, you’ll need the red pill and the blue pill and some Adderall ... The eerie first half — by far the better — is set on Prospera, an island paradise ... Although Cronin made his reputation by destroying the world, he’s actually better at building it, with all its attendant faults ... All the elements are here for a spectacular sci-fi thriller full of piercing implications for our own class-bound society, with its paralyzing fear of aging. But Cronin has something far more ambitious and metaphysical in mind, which throws The Ferryman off its tracks ... The creepy utopia Proctor depended on vanishes, and he finds himself in a hallucinatory realm of baffling experiences ... This is clearly meant to be a stunning development, ripe with provocative reflections on the nature of consciousness and the creative power of perception. But unfortunately, those deeper issues dissolve in a vat of melodrama ... The Ferryman wants to explore what’s real and what’s illusion, and I’m as eager as the next Platonist to be enlightened by the true nature of reality, but this late in the philosophical game, authors have got to bring something special to the cave wall. Unfortunately, Cronin’s topsy-turvy thriller is torn apart by the unsustainable imbalance between its profound intentions and its ultimately silly execution.