Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Review: The Colony, by Audrey Magee


The Colony, by Audrey Magee. Farrar, Strauss & Giroux (2022). Longlisted for the 2022 Booker Prize.

The Colony is a taut, beautiful novel set on a fictional Irish island in the 1970s, at the height of the Troubles, about an isolated community of Irish-language speakers and their interactions with two outsiders- a French linguist named Jean-Pierre Masson, determined to preserve the Irish language and make a name for himself in academia, and an English artist named Mr. Lloyd, determined to revitalize his own career as a painter.

A distinguishing feature of the book is the way Magee alters the tone and style of the narration depending on who is the focus of any given scene; when we're focused on Mr. Lloyd, Magee uses staccato sentences that almost read as poetry. With Masson, we are treated to an almost stream of consciousness style. The two men come to conflict over two characters- young James, a budding artist, and his mother, Mairead, both Lloyd's model and Masson's lover. And they conflict over the subject of Lloyd's contamination of both the language and the lifestyle of the island. James wants to leave, go to London and pursue painting but he is under great pressure to stay and embrace a more traditional lifestyle.

Magee intersperses the narration and the shifting viewpoints with accounts of sectarian violence taking place during the time. I found this both alienating and grounding. It took me off of the island and into the country's larger problems but it also helped to orient me and remind me of what was at stake for the characters. Both Masson and Lloyd have their own issues and baggage related to colonialism and occupation, and neither man is neutral or entirely self-aware. 

I enjoyed the book very much and would recommend it to readers of literary fiction generally and especially of course to those interested in Ireland. If you've seen the film "The Banshees of Inisherin," this is less melodramatic but I felt like the characters were just as complex and the perspective it had on the sectarian conflict a little less metaphorical if you will.

Definitely check it out if anything here ticks a box for you!

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review. I purchased it at Nantucket Bookworks on Nantucket, Massachusetts.

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