Nina Scafe, a workaholic TV producer from the North of England, takes her teenage daughter Laurie to visit her grandparents on Hope Island, off the coast of Maine in the USA. She’s hoping to find the right moment to break it Laurie that her father has left them for his secret second family. Tensions run high: Nina is estranged from her teenage daughter and she hardly knows her in-laws, who make passive aggressive jibes at her and are behaving really strangely. The islanders are a colourfully odd bunch of characters and deeply suspicious of outsiders. The children are eerily silent and seem to be trying to lure Laurie away. Add in ‘The Sanctuary,’ a mysterious artist’s colony in a decaying old lighthouse, conflict over an archaeological pit of ancient bones, and the discovery of a dead body on the beach, and you have a pretty explosive combination.
Tim Major’s second novel Hope Island, a follow-up to his recent Snakeskins, starts with a bang – literally, as the family’s car veers off the road – and slowly cranks up the tension as family drama blends with classic horror tropes: terrifyingly weird children, fear of outsiders, and a fragile woman who could just be having a mental breakdown. Finally Nina has an action-packed, mind-bending, dreamlike battle with a startlingly leftfield Thing of Evil. To surprise readers by coming up with such an original Thing of Evil in 2020, when it feels like everything has been done before, is a totally mind-blowing accomplishment. If Major now wants to spend the rest of his life knocking back the champagne and toasting his unique contribution to the field of sci-fi and horror, I think he’s pretty much entitled to.*
I loved Major’s evocation of Hope Island. He sidesteps the over-writing of Gothic horror but still builds a menacing atmosphere, piling up the mysteries and threats. He also focusses on the sounds of the island. There’s a contrast between the freakishly silent children and the boomingly loud adults with their blaring televisions, and a clash between the sounds of the natural and man-made worlds. The artists – or ‘siblings’ – as they creepily call themselves – at The Sanctuary are busily creating disorienting sound art using recordings of silence, echoes and re-recordings. Major’s conjuring up of this auditory world gives a fresh new perspective. He takes the kinds of unpleasant sounds we’ve all experienced – ears popping after a plane ride, high-pitched feedback, deafening music – and amplifies them into a creeping body horror. This blends seamlessly with the themes of the novel – communication and miscommunication, finding your voice, learning to listen to your intuition. ‘It’s all about listening. Listening is the way to connect yourself to the world. Otherwise everybody’s broadcasting endlessly, and everything else is just background noise,’ Nina says at one point. At the moment these themes are surely ones that most of us can relate to.
Hope Island is a multi-layered, extremely engaging and entertaining, thought-provoking novel with a gripping plot and interesting themes. It makes great use of classic horror tropes and takes them somewhere new and original. I loved it.
*If you read Hope Island and realise that this Thing of Evil has actually been done before, I just don’t know enough about horror, please let me know – I’m curious.
Hope Island is published by Titan Books and is available here.
Tim Major is the author of Snakeskins, You Don’t Belong Here, Blighters, Carus & Mitch, the YA novel Machineries of Mercy, the short story collection And the House Lights Dim, and a non-fiction book about the silent crime film, Les Vampires. His shorts have appeared in Interzone, Not One of Us and numerous anthologies including Best of British Science Fiction and The Best Horror of the Year. He lives in York, UK.
Reviewed by Kate Tyte
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