Sam Taylor’s Republic of Trees focused on a paradise, run by children, for children. It didn’t work. In The Island at the End of the World, he takes on the theme of a paradise run by a father for the benefit of his three children, Alice, Finn and Daisy. This is a paradise with three books – the Complete Works of Shakespeare, the Bible, and Grimms’ Fairytales. The paradise is set on an island in the middle of an ocean, and the family arrived on the island in an ark during a great flood. They believe themselves to be the last remaining survivors of the human race.
In the opening half of the book, Pa and Finn – who is probably about ten and has no antediluvian memories – alternate in their narration. Pa has a bit of a God complex – and a very Old Testament God complex at that – seeking to control and avenge for the good of preserving the paradise in which he is raising his children. Finn, meanwhile, trusts his father completely and submits to the authority almost entirely.
As a stranger appears on the island, the paradise is threatened. Pa has to decide what he is and is not prepared to do for the greater good of preserving the paradise. This leads on into the second half of the book, in which the narration is shared between Pa and Alice, his older, thirteen-year-old daughter. Unlike Finn, Alice does have some memories of the old world – Babylon as Pa describes it – and has a little more curiosity than her brother. She also seems to have been far more affected by the loss of their mother than her two siblings.
So begins a strange and stylized story of deception and protection; of adolescence and awakening. The voices – all stylized – are utterly compelling. Pa is a lay preacher of a tyrant; Finn tells the story in a phonetic, uneducated style reminiscent of the central, cargo-cult section of David Mitchel’s Cloud Atlas, and Alice is full of Shakespearean ideals of love and loss. But at the heart is a perverted, dystopian series of relationships for which the children’s limited education and vocabulary is not quite sufficient – and for which Pa’s fractured state of mind is similarly inadequate. There is a sense of menace and jeopardy that runs through every slightest action. The reader has no idea what might happen next because there is no law beyond that in Pa’s mind at any given moment.