Burnt Island by Alice Thompson

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Burnt Island by Alice Thompson

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Category: Horror
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Steve Shayler
Reviewed by Steve Shayler
Summary: Burnt Island is the creepy tale of an author hoping to use a remote island for inspiration but either succumbing to madness or being hounded by horrors that inhabit the unusual location.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 224 Date: May 2013
Publisher: Salt Publishing
ISBN: 978-1907773488

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Max Long is a semi-successful author and has had seven novels published, none of which were bestsellers. Max is unsatisfied with the critical and sales responses for his books and is determined to write a story that will rocket him to stardom and the bestseller list. Burnt Island is a remote rocky outpost in the ocean that he believes will inspire him to write a novel for the masses. He lodges with another author on the island and although meaning to concentrate on his writing he is distracted by the people and the creepy atmosphere of the isle. Something is not at all what it seems on Burnt Island, but is it of Max's creation or something that was already waiting for him?

Max Long is clearly a troubled character from the start (with doubts about his mental stability being implied right from the prologue) and the novel creates most of its chills from observing his deterioration from being a highly ambitious man who views himself as an underachiever, to a delusional and paranoid individual. It becomes difficult to trust Max and his impressions as the protagonist and this creates a truly effective discomfort for the reader which really heightens the horror elements within the story.

From the outset the atmosphere of the island and the story are set with fantastic prose that instantly says we are in for a horror experience. There seem to be chilling omens from very early on and we are immediately put on alert. Alice Thompson writes horror with great style and uses an interesting mix of gothic writing and more modern horror approaches. The remote location, the locals and Max's own thoughts all contribute to an eerie and almost otherworldly feeling.

The story is very unsettling with disturbing scenes being played out and I couldn't be sure whether they were the result of a deranged mind or whether there was something much more sinister afoot on Burnt Island. The island seems to be inhabited by a few unusual locals who appear to be hiding secrets and know things about the island and Max's companions that they will not entirely reveal. These characters are not particularly developed within the story and feel a little like the extras in a horror film that inhabit the local pub when someone from out of town enters. They create some mystery about the island but even the more important minor characters feel a little like horror caricatures rather than genuine people.

The author and family that house Max are very well developed characters who the more we learn about the more they seem to be shrouded by mystery and intrigue. The jealousy that Max begins to feel towards his more successful companion creates yet more tension and the seductive nature of the daughter amplifies these feelings and this tension.

When reading the story I was at times reminded of a few different authors, with the slightly otherworldly surreal aspect reminding me of Kafka and some of the psychological horror prompting memories of Lovecraft and Ramsey Campbell. These are favourable comparisons and although I wouldn't rate the book as highly as some of these authors' achievements it is still a fantastic and distinctive novel.

Burnt Island is an unusual and well written horror that uses the protagonist's mental breakdown to create a chilling read that is full of paranoia. Mysterious unnatural shadows stalk the island, screams echo through buildings and strange urges take control; and I was left questioning whether it is more or less disturbing that these may only be figments of an overactive imagination. Alice Thompson has a knack for horror writing and having enjoyed this I hope to try some of her earlier work; I only hope they are half as atmospheric as this.

For another chilling story that relies on psychological terror The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson would be a good place to start.

Buy Burnt Island by Alice Thompson at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Burnt Island by Alice Thompson at Amazon.co.uk


Buy Burnt Island by Alice Thompson at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Burnt Island by Alice Thompson at Amazon.com.

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