Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Lily's Review of The Black Isle, by Sandi Tan

The Black Isle

There are ghosts on the Black Isle.
Ghosts that no one can see.
No one...except Cassandra.


Uprooted from Shanghai with her father and twin brother, young Cassandra finds the Black Isle's bustling, immigrant-filled seaport, swampy jungle, and grand rubber plantations a sharp contrast to the city of her childhood. And she soon makes another discovery: the Black Isle is swarming with ghosts.

Taking readers from the 1920s, through the Japanese occupation during WWII, to the Isle's radical transformation into a gleaming cosmopolitan city, THE BLACK ISLE is a sweeping epic--a deeply imagined, fiercely original tale from a vibrant new voice in fiction.

Published August 7th 2012 by Hachette Book Group 

'The Black Isle' book trailer

Lily's Rating: didn't like it it was ok liked it (my current rating) really liked it it was amazing


To say that this is one of the darkest novels I have ever read is not saying enough. This story IS DARK!! And though very intriguing and mystical, also incredibly depressing. 

Though I try not to do this as a rule, I did browse some of the reviews  on Goodreads for this title. There was a real mixture of reactions which made me even more curious to read this. Some readers were really turned off by some of the content, such as scenes of incest, and some bestiality. For that alone, some dropped the novel.  And when they were talking of bestiality, we are talking about an octopus rising to the occasion (pun very much intended).

Seriously guys...

An octopus....

Started reading it the very next day... I just had to know for myself what everyone was talking about.

And so started my journey through 'The Black Isle'. 

What struck me right off the bat is how well written this novel is.  Immediately, I feel connected to Cassandra, and intrigued with her. She is presently an old woman, and through some mysterious circumstances, finds herself relunctantly telling her story to a professor that literally hounded her for it.  As she begins, I felt like I was in Shanghai, experiencing the sights and culture through the character's eyes, and am intrigued by how dark the story already feels. And once the Cassandra and her twin, Li, were uprooted to the Black Isle with their father, the island came alive in my mind as well.  

Yes, what other readers talked about was very much present within the book.

The twins, in their isolation in their plantation, did have some touchy-feely moments that made me wanna

Ya... Really gross. I am thankful that this didn't go on for too long in the book. 

Oh... and the octopus scene? 

Cassandra and her lover take a walk on the beach, and they see a woman that appears to be struggling with an octopus.  Fearing she was being attacked by this animal, they approach her, but as they get closer they realize that the animal and this woman are carrying on sexually... 

Ahhhhh... so relevant to the story!

Ya. No. 

There was no relevance at all that I could see. Maybe I missed the vision on this one, but the plot truly would not have suffered with the complete deletion of this scene. I still scratch my head thinking about why it was even there in the first place. Shock value? Maybe. It was enough to have some people drop the book completely, so not sure it was worth its inclusion.

Without recounting a lot of the story with any more spoilers, the island is occupied by British troops, but the Japanese invade. So begins another extremely dark period in Cassandra's life. There are many atrocities in this novel, some that truly made my stomach turn.  Cassandra can see and interact with ghosts, and some of them are quite disturbing or depressing. Many war atrocities, animal cruelty and dark sexual content are also very present in this novel.

That being said, the character and plot were extremely well developed, and the detail that went into the execution of this novel, though sometimes visually unwelcome on some scenes, was exceptional. There were many twists and turns. I never knew what was going to happen next, and I LIKE THAT!

This read is not for everyone. You need to be the type of reader that is open to read a really dark, and disturbing story. There are no happy endings. For anyone.  What I can say is that regardless of this, I still enjoyed this novel. It was really well written and kept me on the edge of my seat.  

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  1. Okay, so I am one of the reviewers that marked this DNF. I too absolutely enjoyed the writing style, it was beautiful. The main thread of the story is good, I just had such a hard time connecting to the characters after 'certain' scenes. Being a character driven reader, that was really difficult for me. But I do look forward to reading more from Tan.

    1. Completely undestand your comment about the characters. And after getting through it, I understand the mixed reactions to it for other readers. Though, overall, I did like the novel; the writing style and the plot is what kept me reading. I connected with Cassandra, because her character was so intriguing in the beginning. But the connection because one of pity as the story progressed. I understood what drove Cassandra to do certain things,but the majority of the characters I either didn't care for, felt sorry for or just despised. War attracts all kinds I guess. A lot of those scenes were outright repulsive.

      I have read many dark novels over the years. This one is in the top 5 of my list. Pretty rough reading material. LOL

    2. I see all your points. I was very surprised at my reaction to this one. I don't shy away from much. I am not sure if it was a timing thing for me that turned me off so much...hmmm. I just had such an adverse reaction to a few things. So sad, because as I said, the writing is wonderful and the story is good.


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