Caribou Island by David Vann

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Caribou Island by David Vann

Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: Brilliantly written compelling page-turner from the author of Legend of a Suicide. Highly recommended.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 240 Date: January 2011
Publisher: Viking
ISBN: 978-0670918447

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Irene and Gary went to Alaska many years ago and somehow they stayed there, probably through inertia, and they raised two children. Rhoda loves animals and is keen that her boyfriend, Jim the dentist, should marry her. She half knows that he's not that reliable but it's what she's set on. Irene and Gary's son, Mark, lives with his girlfriend, Karen and it seems that the only thing they're serious about is not taking life too seriously. It's probably understandable when you look at Gary. He's self-involved, selfish and dishonest with himself. Irene has her problems too. She's never really got over going home when she was ten years old and finding her mother hanging from the rafters.

Gary has an ambition. It would be a little strong to call it a plan, because planning's not his strong point . He bought some land out on Caribou Island and he's determined that he and Irene will build a cabin and live there. It's remote, uninhabited and in bad weather it's cut off from the mainland. None of this worries Gary through – he's going to be a frontiersman sitting at the window of his cabin and smoking his pipe. He's got little idea of how to build the cabin and it's Irene who's the practical one, but she's not well. No one can find the source of her headaches, but they're real and punishing to her, if to no one else.

When I read Legend of a Suicide I found a compelling page-turner that wasn't an easy read and I wondered how David Van would cope with a subject that wasn't at least partly autobiographical. Now that I've finished Caribou Island I've got a similar feeling. It's a much easier read – a chronological story without the twist in the middle which guts you - but an ending which drops you on the floor. There are similar themes –t he man who heads out into the unknown, taking someone else with him, but without the mental or practical skills to cope with what he's undertaken - and a dentist called Jim. We've got a suicide before we hit the bottom of the first page. So – the jury's still out on that one, but I don't actually think that the verdict matters.

The writing is stunning and the plot powerful. Alaska comes vividly off the page – not as the tourist venue, but the reality of the life lived by the people who live there. You will feel cold as you're reading it. You'll feel involved with the people too although it wasn't the intrusive closeness which I felt with Legend of a Suicide. I was half- expecting a sequel to Legend but found instead a feeling that I was being pulled further back into a family history – and it won't let me go. It's days now since I finished the book, but I'm finding it impossible to get the people out of my mind.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.

For more of the Arctic and the Alaskan Wilderness we can recommend The Magnetic North: Travels in the Arctic by Sara Wheeler.

Buy Caribou Island by David Vann at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Caribou Island by David Vann at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Caribou Island by David Vann at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Caribou Island by David Vann at Amazon.com.


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