SKEIN ISLAND / AUTHOR: ALIYA WHITELEY / PUBLISHER: TITAN BOOKS / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
What is the secret of Skein Island? Since the end of the Second World War, it has been a place where women go to escape the humdrum and trauma of their every day lives, but only for a single week and only by invitation. All the island’s mysterious matriarch demands in return is a story from each visitor’s past. Each story is a Declaration, and there are thousands of Declarations in the island’s vast library. Why those Declarations are being collected, and what their ultimate purpose is, who knows? All that is certain is Skein Island changes the lives of its guests. Seventeen years ago, it changed Marianne’s mother’s life, and Marianne’s mother never came back.
Now, after a frightening encounter in the library where she works, Marianne unexpectedly receives an invitation to the island. For Marianne, who has been living a happy but unremarkable life with her husband David, it’s an opportunity to finally discover what happened to her mother. But the island’s mysteries are buried deep in wartime atrocity and Ancient Greek mythology, hallucinatory water, and ambulatory statues. It’s a week that will challenge Marianne’s self-perceptions and force her to question the role she plays in her own life. Back at home, Marianne’s absence will force her husband to confront his own fears and anxieties too. Are the parts we play pre-determined? Can we rewrite our own stories and change our destiny, or are we powerless to prevent history from repeating itself? Why are men banned from the island, and what devastating truths will Marianne uncover when she discovers the very first Declaration, written by the island’s founder - a woman who must surely have died long ago, but who seemingly sent the invitation that brought Marianne here?
At its heart, Skein Island is a novel about storytelling, gender, and the tales we fall captive to or fool ourselves into believing. It’s about the power of the written word and, quite appropriately, Aliya Whiteley’s writing is spellbinding, blending reality and mythos together to create a world that is most terrifying when it reflects our deepest fears back at us. It won’t be for everybody - Marianne is a frustratingly distant protagonist who seems to spend a lot of time on the side-lines of her own existence, and some XY chromosome readers might feel the set-up is a little bit too ‘chick-lit’ for their tastes (although it’s well worth persevering) - but there’s definitely magic here even though, as per the island, it might not be in the way it first appears.