‘Read and enjoy’ – Skein Island by Aliya Whiteley

(Ed. This review first ran in 2015. We’re re-running it because Skein Island is being reissued.)

Because it has only been twelve months since The Beauty (which was my favourite book of last year) it feels almost too soon for another Aliya Whiteley novel, however strange that may sound. The Beauty was so good that it still sits in my brain, playing its tune, affecting my thoughts. I wasn’t sure I wanted to mute the effect of it by adding another layer. Like the courses of a meal, these things need time to settle before we have another.

Anyway, it turns out I did want another Aliya Whiteley novel after all.

It helps that Skein Island is sufficiently different from The Beauty as to make comparisons relatively worthless. Skein Island is far closer to Whiteley’s first two novels (Three Things About Me, and Light Reading) on the normal-to-messed-up scale. There is, as with those earlier books, a strong speculative element, but we are a long way from the strange, scary, wonderful world of The Beauty.

Well, kind of.

Because although the setting of Skein Island is recognisable as our ‘now’, it makes a strange, scary, wonderful world of it. The island of the title is a private refuge, a women-only by-invitation-only destination, where the charge for a week’s stay is a story from your past which will be stored in a library for ever. The novel is split into two narratives: Marianne, who gets an invite to the island and David who, obviously, doesn’t.

Simple enough. But…

Did I mention the monster, resurrected from Ancient Greece? Or the four cubes, one red, one yellow, one blue, one green? And what they do? Because I probably should. Because that’s how the weird gets in.

No, I could but I won’t. I’ll let you discover all that for yourself. A lot of the joy of The Beauty, and now Skein Island, is in the ramping up of the strange. Pre-empting that process by describing the plot would be pointless. Cruel really. Read and enjoy.

You will enjoy.

And, hopefully we won’t have to wait a whole year before we get another novel. Blimey!

Any Cop?: One day I will win the lottery (I won’t) and I will spend some of my newfound wealth on a series of billboard adverts that will just say, in a reassuringly simple font, READ ALIYA WHITELEY. It will save me time. It will save you time. It will save me the effort of finding new ways to say, read Aliya Whiteley.

Benjamin Judge


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