Book Review – The Colony by Audrey Magee

The Colony by Audrey Magee

It’s the summer of 1979, and an English painter and a French linguist both travel to a small island off the West Coast of Ireland where Irish remains the primary spoken language. What follows is a beautifully written and layered exploration of the idyllic and mythologised view they each hold of this place, versus the realities experienced and endured by those living and striving to grow there; all of these contrasted with the atrocities taking place on the mainland as Ireland’s sectarian tensions reach their pinnacle.

The narrative unfolds from various perspectives, through both an omniscient third person narrative moving between the characters, and the occasional inner meditations of a selection of these characters. I loved this book and found myself fully immersed in it, in the sense of place evoked and the intimate development of certain characters, such as young James, the aspiring painter with a natural gift, and his mother Mairéad, the grieving widow, seeking some kind of shift of landscape, some kind of personal fulfilment and move outside the traditional and restrictive life expected of her. While the sparring relationship between the English painter and the French linguist is almost comical, the relationship between painter Lloyd and James was beautifully developed, swinging between a new sense of mutual understanding, support and companionship, and moments of bitter betrayal; while the slow revelation of the French linguist Masson’s own backstory gave a more meaningful depth of understanding to his own reasons for his relentless pursuit in seeking to preserve a language and way of life.

This book explores, in lyrical and evocative prose, sweeping themes of art, language, identity, tradition, the narrow expectations of our communities versus our own personal desires and aspirations, and complex political histories, while also intimately exploring a diverse selection of relationships unfolding on one tiny Atlantic island. 

Listened to as an audiobook, I absolutely loved this and will add this to the ever growing audiobook list TBR properly.

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The Colony was published by Faber in 2022.

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Audrey Magee was born in Ireland and lives in Wicklow. Her first novel, The Undertaking, was shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction, for France’s Festival du Premier Roman and for the Irish Book Awards. It was also nominated for the Dublin Literary Award and the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction. The Undertaking has been translated into ten languages and is being adapted for film. The Colony is her second novel, and it was longlisted for the Booker Prize 2022.

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