The Colony

 The Colony by Audrey Magee

A remote island off the western coast of Ireland, is, in the turbulent summer of 1979, set in the old ways and fearful of change. There, Mairead, a beautiful young widow who lost her husband to the sea, lives with her son, James, James' grandmother and great-grandmother.  

Regular breaks in the narrative report news items of violence related to the "troubles" happening on the mainland. At first they seem unrelated to the islanders, but eventually the killings creep into their conversations and though they aren't directly involved, you worry about James. His mother urges him "Stay away from that, James."

With summer come two visitors to the Island. Mr. Lloyd is an artist, here to paint the cliffs and the people of the island in hopes of reviving his flagging career. J.P. is a liguist in the fifth and final year of his study of the Gaelic language and its decline. The two men take an instant dislike to each other, Mr. Lloyd frustrated that he will not have the quiet and solitude he expected, and J.P. angry that Lloyd's presence has the islanders speaking English, the language of the colonizers.

The locals are suspicious of the artist, not knowing what he wants of them or what his work will say to the world about them, and when Mairead begins posing for him, their unease only increases. Her sneaking out of J.P.'s room in the mornings is one more reason to want both visitors gone. 

When Lloyd discovers that James has artistic talent, he invites the boy to accompany him to London to exhibit some of his art with Lloyds. Eager for a life beyond the island, James creates pieces to exhibit but begins to suspect Lloyd of copying some of James' ideas for his own work. Lloyd, realizing James is a better artist than he is and will outshine him in London, decides he can't allow that to happen. 

You get to know the characters from the changing points of view and the access the author gives us to their thoughts. A sense of melancholy infuses every part of the story, but I wouldn't say it weighs it down. It creates an atmosphere of forboding that keeps you wondering, almost worrying, how this is going to end. As the reports from the mainland become more intense, so things on the island build to an unsettling conclusion. 


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