HOPE ISLAND by Tim Major (BOOK REVIEW)
Nina Scaife is a workaholic TV producer, taking her first holiday in years. She has just arrived on Hope Island with her teenage daughter, Laurie, to visit Laurie’s grandparents, parents of Rob, Nina’s long-time partner. The book opens with Nina braking sharply to avoid knocking over a child in the road – a child that no-one else notices was there. Immediately we are put in a position to question Nina’s mental state – a situation that only deepens when we discover that Nina is, in part, there to announce that Rob has left her and Laurie, and is not away on a business trip as she has claimed. She is determined to use this time to reconnect with her daughter and form some sort of relationship with the grandparents she has largely ignored for the duration of her relationship, but events conspire against her, with Laurie preferring to spend her time with the children of the island, and a mystery igniting Nina’s journalistic instincts.
Hope Island is a beautiful place, and the setting works really well with the darkness underpinning everything, the subtle sense that Major creates of something being just not quite right. From the way that the children are sullen to the point of rudeness to the fact that the locals all seem to shout and have everything from TVs to radios blaring at full volume. The juxtaposition leaves the reader with a vague but distinct feeling of unease. This book defies easy classification, being part horror, part science fiction, part surreal fiction. It’s a real slow burn, with tension building between Nina and all of the other characters and between Nina and the reader, as we question her judgement and responses to the odd experiences she has on the island.
Hope Island is as much a psychological exploration of Nina as it is a story about the strange events on the island. It’s a real journey of self-discovery for Nina, which I found refreshing on many levels. For a start, Nina is an experienced woman, a mother, not your typical protagonist in a horror novel. She’s also not terribly sympathetic, always a risk with your protagonist. Nina is not particularly motherly, something that society tends to code as a fault in women. Nina certainly sees it as a failing, but the narrative does not reinforce that.
Sound is woven throughout the book, the ability to listen and to find one’s voice, to make noise and claim space in the world. It’s a really powerful undercurrent which crescendos with the climax of the novel in a beautiful and powerful way. This element is really cleverly woven through the text, building subtly, until you realise that it’s been there all along.
I loved this book and would highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys slow-burn horror.