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Book Review: ‘Satin Island’ by Tom McCarthy

As an avid, lifelong reader I pretty much always have to finish a book when I’ve started it. Love it or loathe it, I really have to get to the end, even if it feels like I might die of boredom in the process. I consider it a bit of a super power to have the good sense to just give up on a book that you’re clearly not enjoying. But sadly, it’s one of many super powers that I simply don’t have and it’s a real rarity if I put a book down in order to give up on it. Hence the slog to get through what was actually a relatively short book.

Satin Island is by no means a terrible book. In fact, it was shortlisted for the 2015 Booker Prize and so, if you believe in awards, then that’s a decent yardstick of the quality here. Satin Island just wasn’t for me.

The story revolves around anthropologist U (or was it C or K, I genuinely don’t remember. Whatever it is, he hasn’t got a proper name) and the quest that he seems to have found himself on. He’s employed by a company to research stuff…this, that and maybe the other…I was never really entirely sure what he was doing to be fair and the crux of the tale seems to be the findings of his investigation.

The problem – both with the narrative and for me, the book itself – is that U doesn’t seem to ever really do anything that resembles work or the work that we’re led to believe that he should be doing. He’s researching stuff, but it never really seems to have anything to do with what it is he’s actually meant to be working on. Mind you, even the project here is vague. So, while you’re reading about what U’s up to, you’re also wondering why on earth he’s doing it. And for me this meant that the narrative never really took shape and I realised about halfway through the book that I had no idea what was going on.

U investigates the death of parachutists. U starts seeing a girl. U Googles stuff about Staten Island. U reads up on South Pacific cults. U spends lots of time looking into lots of different things producing very little in the way of results. In essence, U spends his days doing the equivalent of you or I disappearing down various YouTube or Facebook holes and while he gets paid to do it, this really added nothing at all to the book. In fact, with each little bit of research or thinking that U did, I would get optimistic that finally we were getting somewhere, only for U to find he’d headed down another dead end and me to find I still didn’t know what was going on.

For me, Satin Island is one to put down to experience. I don’t feel that I can give it a bad review though. Rather, I feel like the book was possibly just a little bit cleverer than me. So yes, nothing seems to have happened, but maybe there’s a hidden meaning and I’m just missing the point. It wouldn’t be the first time that I’ve missed something in a book or a film. Whatever, it was though, I finished it!

Now, in terms of recommendations…well I’ll leave it to you. By all means read it and feel free to let me know what I was missing.

I give Satin Island,

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Author: middleagefanclub

Man, husband, dad, teacher, coach, Geordie. Former street dancing champion of Tyne and Wear, guinea pig whisperer, developer of the best-selling fragrance, Pizzazz and alleged liar. Ex male model and a devilish raconteur. No challenge should be faced without a little charm and a lot of style.

4 thoughts on “Book Review: ‘Satin Island’ by Tom McCarthy”

  1. It does sound reallt confusing! I’m all for dropping hints, red herrings, and not giving it all away at once. But I don’t want to be offputtingly confused.

    Liked by 1 person

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