Islands by Peggy Frew

This is a review I wrote in April 2019 which, for some reason, I appear not to have posted here.

‘You were a girl, a sister and a daughter, and we knew you. At least we thought we did.’

Anna is at the centre of this novel. Anna is a difficult child, a rebellious adolescent, who disappears when she is 15. Anna’s parents are Helen and John, her older sister is Junie. So why did Anna disappear, and what impact has her disappearance had on those who knew her?

I found this a challenging novel to read: each chapter provides a different perspective, a different viewpoint by those who knew Anna. The chapters are not necessarily chronological and not all (directly) about Anna. But through these different perspectives, a disjointed narrative emerges, one which reinforces the sense of people (as well as places) being islands.

We see Helen and John when they are young and falling in love, we witness the breakdown of their marriage. Anna and Junie chose to live with different parents. We see Junie and Anna as children, we see Junie trying to build defences against her emotions, her life blighted by Anna’s disappearance. We see impact and effect; we can speculate as to cause. There is loss in this novel, pain and suffering. The breakdown of relationships, Anna’s disappearance, the guilt.

‘But these were small islands in the sea of demands.’

I finished this novel feeling quite unsettled. Ms Frew has created characters I felt I know (even if I find it difficult to relate to some of their actions). I wanted to step into the novel and intervene. I wanted to shake Helen and John, to listen to Anna and Junie, to try to change the future. And that is what has stayed with me: not the story so much as the characters.

‘Islands’ is Ms Frew’s third novel.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith


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