Alice Thompson - Burnt Island (4 stars)

Sixth novel takes the gothic genre to a whole new level

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Burnt Island

(Salt Publishing)

When emotionally fragile literary author Max Long wins a three-month writing fellowship on the mysterious Burnt Island (not to be confused with the Fife coastal town), he believes that this could be his opportunity to write the bestseller that has so far eluded him. On arrival, however, Max quickly falls into the circle of famously reclusive author James Fairfax, and his at-times unsettling daughters; more worryingly, Max starts having increasingly weird visions of supernatural creatures straight out of a gothic horror novel.

Part murder mystery, part Wicker Man-tale of a stranger struggling to survive within a small island community, Alice Thompson’s sixth novel is an assured, if aptly over-the-top updating of the traditional gothic novel. She sets out her stall from the start, with opening chapters featuring doppelgängers and a storm at sea where everything is repeatedly “dark” and “black”. Although the heightened introspection of an author struggling with his imagination at times seems like authorial self-absorption, there is a haunting, nightmarish quality to Thompson’s writing that lingers long after the final page.

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