Thirty years after a luxury resort-building project was hastily abandoned following an 'incident', the very existence of the island of Koh Wai off the coast of Thailand has been quietly erased from history by the Thai Government. A bunch of hard-partying youngsters off their nuts on drugs find themselves aboard a boat which ends up beaching on the eerie, deserted island with, as you might be able to guess, fairly disastrous and bloody consequences.
This, in fact, is the real – but not the only - problem with The Forgotten Island. From the first few chapters, when the construction team on the island comes a cropper and we meet the core characters – Scottish sisters Ana and Rachel, the latter’s lusty boyfriend Paul and a few other hangers-on – we can pretty much guess exactly the journey they’re going on and where the book is going to take the reader. In that regard the book doesn’t disappoint as it descends into an orgy of grisly blood-letting, hideously-mutated man-monsters and nasty drooling giant spiders (erroneously described as insects a couple of times in the text) which are likely to send arachnophobes running for the SpiderStop.
The book does disappoint, however, it terms of its characters and, on occasion, in its slightly sloppy writing. Early chapters demonstrate David Sodergren’s deftness with slick, sassy dialogue and potentially-intriguing characters, some of who have more secrets than others. But, as the novel wears on, the novelty of the characters wears off and before long we realise that none of them are especially likeable; many are insufferable, others are just annoying, and the lead characters are alternately self-obsessed or selfless, entirely dependant on the demands of the plot.
The story itself evokes the spirit of any number of cheapjack body horror novels from the 1970s, and as a result it often comes across as alarmingly dated and spectacularly misogynistic; Sodergren leeringly reminds us that the females are in their “knickers” or “panties” or else bouncing around topless or, eventually, completely naked. Phwoar etc. The male characters aren’t any better; they’re largely imbecilic, permanently priapic (even in times of extreme crisis) and seem to have nothing else on their minds than forcing themselves upon the beleaguered females. It’s not big or clever or particularly edifying.
Despite the fact that The Forgotten Island is morally pretty suspect, often reading like an over-excited fifteen year-old schoolboy’s first stab at writing horror fiction, there are some signs here that Sodergren knows how to tell a story. He builds up the tension well and vividly conjures up moments of genuine skin-crawling yukkiness. If he can set his baser tendencies aside, he could come up with something considerably more accomplished next time (he’s apparently working on several other novels) and, even though you might feel the need to take a shower after finishing The Forgotten Island, we’ve read far worse self-published genre fiction. There are some thrills and spills to be found here in amongst the sleaze and swearing.
THE FORGOTTEN ISLAND / AUTHOR: DAVID SODERGREN / PUBLISHER: PAPERBACKS AND PUGS / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW