Reviews | Written by Paul Mount 20/04/2020

HOPE ISLAND

AUTHOR: TIM MAJOR | PUBLISHER: TITAN BOOKS | RELEASE DATE: JUNE 6TH

There’s a dash of John Wyndham and a soupcon of The Wicker Man in the richly-atmospheric latest novel from Tim Major that weaves an eerie, esoteric supernatural mystery into a story of troubled familial relationships in an isolated, insular off-shore community. Workaholic English TV producer Nina Scaife travels with her teenage daughter Laurie to the remote Hope Island off the coast of Maine to spend some time with her estranged partner Rob’s parents. But the tension between them all becomes obvious almost immediately. Nina and her daughter do not enjoy the close relationship of a typical mother and daughter, and over the years Nina has spent little time in the company of Rob’s parents Tammy and Abram. Nina’s situation is exacerbated by the secret she knows she has to share; she and Rob have split up, and he is settling into life with his new partner and her own children. Nina just needs to find the right time to break the news to her daughter and to Rob’s parents, but she is distracted by the strange, unsettling behaviour of the island’s tiny population, especially its unearthly, distracted children, one of whom Nina almost runs over soon after arriving on the island. Nina quickly becomes entranced by a commune of bohemian artists, but is jolted back to a savage reality by the discovery of a body on the beach, its head brutally smashed open…

Hope Island is a gritty and compelling page-turner, and with its coterie of cold, apparently emotionless children it’s difficult – especially in the latter chapters – not to draw comparison with Wyndham’s memorable Midwich Cuckoos with their hypnotic blue eyes and blonde hair just as Hope Island itself brings to mind The Wicker Man’s off-kilter SummerisleBoth cast long, distracting shadows across Major’s book. There’s always something disconcerting about any story featuring scary dead-eyed children, and there are a couple of skin-crawling sequences here in which we fear for Nina’s life (and perhaps even her sanity) as she sees the children apparently committing terrible atrocities before turning on her and hunting her down across a savage, storm-swept landscape. The adults of Hope island are an odd bunch too, inward-looking and wary of outsiders, and Major does his best to avoid the “we don’t like strangers ‘round ‘ere” genre cliches by the introduction of the kindly Clay and a handful of other denizens of the commune who, frankly, we could have done with spending a little more time with as they often seem to be entirely peripheral to the main storyline.

Hope Island, unfortunately, wobbles a little as it races towards its denouement. The resolution underscores the book’s maternal themes of nature vs nurture, but the last few chapters drift into a slightly messy surreal fantasy as Nina battles with strange preternatural forces which threaten not only the lives of her and her daughter but also everyone on the island. Major populates his book with well-drawn, believable characters and the action rolls along agreeably, building up a decent sense of creeping dread and foreboding. But Hope Island is a book compromised by the nagging sense of overfamiliarity engendered by its setting and its storyline and a wilfully obscure climax that aims for the metaphysical but tumbles instead into a gabble of hokey metaphor leading to a slightly flat and underwhelming conclusion. However, it remains a powerful and generally well-considered work that might well haunt you a little more than you might expect.

 

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