If Gun Island can at times feel a touch breathless – a detailed description of the habits of Irrawaddy dolphins, for example, giving way to an emergency dash in search of a rare anti-venom treatment, with mysterious symbols scrawled on the side of a shrine thrown in – 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.
The Book of Science and Antiquities
"It would be a crime to give away anything more, but the end of this beautiful novel made me cry. Jones writes with intelligence and a lively wit, but there’s more — a warmth that forces you to care about these people as if you had met them...."
— The Times
3 out of 5
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.
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.
Gun Island blends Bengali folklore, the historical and present-day links between India and Venice, climate change, the refugee crisis, the power of storytelling and the supernatural in a tale that sometimes wobbles under the weight of such a load... 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, Gun Island is more a fusillade of finger-wagging than a display of sniper-like precision.
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.