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The Colony: Audrey Magee

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Full fathom five thy father lies;
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes;
Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange. It’s a novel that both courts and refuses allegory, charting a disorienting course between a piercingly satirical realism on the one hand, and on the other, something much cruder – parable, perhaps, or fable. To calculate the overall star rating and percentage breakdown by star, we don’t use a simple average. The two novels are different in subject but I still see the Church playing a central role in both historical accounts. Well-written novels that engage with Hot-Button Social Issues always win prizes, and The Colony is sure to be no exception.

The Colony is a sneakily allegorical exploration of colonisation and its enduring effects on colonised people; it’s sneaky because it seems quiet and measured, but this is a book that roars beneath the surface. Magee talks about colonialism, cultural identity and arrogant savior-types who don't listen to the people they state to help, and while the first half moves very slowly, the story picks up speed and becomes a real thriller, but crafted as a chamber play.He has been visiting this Gaelic-speaking island for years, undertaking a longitudinal study of the island’s linguistic patterns for his PhD. As the name suggests, the author tries to show the damage of Colonialism by choosing the small island as a symbol. With classics such as Ted Hughes's The Iron Man and award-winners including Emma Carroll's Letters from the Lighthouse, Faber Children's Books brings you the best in picture books, young reads and classics. James (or Seamus to JP) spends time with the English artist and finds out he has an aptitude for painting - which opens up new possibilities for him. Naturally, there’s also an equally traditional smattering of merciless killing and colonising foreigners.

The painting, by Sir William Orpen, dates from 1916, a significant year in Irish history since it marked the beginning of Ireland's final fight for freedom from its British colonisers—attained in 1922 (but only for three-quarters of the country, hence the 'Troubles' in the north of the country where the struggle for freedom was still going on in 1979). There is violence here, but, most impressively, Audrey Magee captures that more insidious cruelty—the kind masked as protection, as manners. Others have mentioned it was slow going in the beginning, but I found it quick-paced from the get-go.This isn’t to discount the pleasurable fluency of Magee’s prose, or her impressive formal intelligence (whereby, for example, the interiority of each character is embodied in a specific style – if Lloyd is an imagist, Masson thinks in lengthy paragraphs of recollection and assertion, and so on). In one telling moment, Mairéad and her brother-in-law Francis discuss the Mountbatten assassination in which two teenage boys were also killed.

Lloyd wants to paint birds, seascapes, light; to “create them / as they already are” – a nice definition of what an artist does. Magee slowly ratchets up the tension and menace, interspersing narrative chapters of island-based events with terse journalistic accounts of the escalating death toll of sectarian conflict, whose waves ultimately lap up against the island's shores by the novel's end.Now I'm able to to see how her writing style mirrors her themes—and I understand how useful it can be for 'point of view' to shift, whether in life, in art, or in writing. There's also Frenchman Jean-Pierre, a linguist who has been making excursions to the island for many years to record how the “purity” of this spoken language is slowly changing with the increasing influence of English. Audrey Magee worked for twelve years as a journalist and has written for, among others, The Times, The Irish Times, the Observer and the Guardian. Interleaved with scenes of Lloyd failing to charm the islanders are terse chapters recounting Northern Irish atrocities. Your review reminds me so very much why we interpreting students are told to enter Deaf events acknowledging the honor of being welcomed in and to be humble.

This works as both historical fiction and as an exploration of an enduringly thorny topic, and I loved the whole thing. I plan to comment on your review properly now I’ve read it Jacqui when I can sit properly at my computer … am away at present and am writing this while a passenger in the car. Once I do more mulling - and complete the long list - perhaps I will alter my rating, but for now, I'll let it stand. Maraid watches her son, James, striding out across the grass, a bottle of milk for each of their visitors in hand. The situation of the island boy with huge artistic talent, but initially no knowledge, reminded me of an Irish artist who was also an untrained islander: James Dixon, encouraged in his art over the course of many years by English artist, Derek Hill, who visited Tory Island off Donegal to paint in a little hut on the cliffs exactly as described in The Colony.Occasionally, the lack of quotation marks and the drifting into other characters minds/viewpoints within the same sentences/paragraphs threw me and I found that jarring as well.

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