Maddie wants to flee from the ghosts that haunt her life after her parents‘ death. Together with seven others, she takes part in a TV experiment in which they have to stay isolated from the world on an island off the Scottish coast for a year. Equipped with cameras and just the most necessary items, the group has to survive in the unfriendly environment. It does not take too long for them until the first conflicts arise. Who does not contribute enough to the community, who is working harder, how can daytime be used in the most useful way? The issues for quarrelling are manifold and Maddie soon finds herself the main target of the male participants. She has always been an outsider, is she just unable of integrating into or group? She tries hard but with lowering food supplies, tension grows and annoyance ultimately turns into blind rage which sets free basic instincts of survival.
Even though Sarah Goodwin’s thriller “Stranded” follows quite a classic scheme, I was totally gripped by the story and hardly could put down the book. The reader follows the first person narrator Maddie thus sharing not only her insecurities and thoughts but also wondering if you can trust her assessment of the situation and feeling hesitant about the other characters’ behaviour and actions behind Maddie’s back. You know from the prologue that things will turn out nasty and that not everybody will survive, thus tension is set high from the start and does not lower at any point keeping you spellbound.
Even though I personally would never take part in such a challenge, I found the setting enthralling. It is well documented what atrocious surroundings in which a bunch of people are threatened by starvation and lose hope of rescue can make of human beings. They turn into animals, it is just a question of when and degree of how horrible the situation becomes. The author does not wait too long for the first small escalations; the characters are well chosen to quickly provide enough room for conflict.
Despite her isolated and overprotective upbringing, Maddie is fairly well equipped for survival. This she needs to be as all kinds of aggressions are addressed to her by her fellows. Her survival instinct kicks in and she is willing to fight back – not matter what it takes. Yet, the other characters are not drawn one-dimensionally either, especially Zoe shows that at times, you are in conflicting situations where you are forced to take sides even though you do not want to and you have to choose maybe the wrong one just because it is the one with the upper hand.
There is no human abyss left out and thus, you only wait for the next escalation level until you reach the ultimate one. Full of suspense, a thriller which definitely deserves this label.
Riley, Sammy, Mia and Scarlett are art students at Monroe and working on projects together when one day, Sammy suggests a trip to Whisper Island, Alaska, where they could spend their holidays for free and profit from its remoteness and special surroundings for their artwork. Even though the others are not too keen on spending summer in the cold north, they agree and see it as an adventure. When they are on their way, Sammy announces that her brother Rob would join them, not just does she thus destroy the girls trip, but especially Mia is angry, her best friend should know that after their breakup, the wounds that Rob had caused never really healed. When they finally arrive, it is not just Rob but also his new girlfriend Opal awaiting them in a run-down house. But not only their lodging is a disappointment, also their boat to travel to the next town is out of order and then their whole trip turns into a nightmare when they realise that they are obviously not alone on the island since a murderer is on the loose killing one after the other.
Carissa Ann Lynch has chosen a classic locked-room setting which strongly reminded me of Agatha Christie’s “And Then There Were None”. Even though the students are not total strangers, they evidently know much less from each other than they thought before their departure. The story is narrated alternatingly from the points of view of the characters thus providing insight in their hidden thoughts and offering the reader, on the hand, clues to what could be behind all this murdering but, on the other hand, also a lot of red herrings which keeps suspense high.
The present events on the island are surely the main focus of the plot, however, the girls’ past, the things they hide from the others – and astonishingly, each of them has quite a story to offer – are much more interesting to unravel. Sammy soon hints at the fact that she did not suggest the trip out of the blue but actually had a good reason to vanish from Memphis and so had her brother. Mia seems to have been in a scandal a couple of years ago which she hopes the others have never heard of but of which the anniversary is close and threatening to make the others a see side of her she prefers to keep hidden. Scarlett struggles with drug abuse and hopes to get sober in the weeks on the island. Riley is new to the group and she is also the one who is quite closed up not giving away too much form herself and her family, so, what does she have to hide?
I liked the atmosphere on the hardly welcoming island which immediately gives you the creeps and fits perfectly to the plot. Speculating about why the six might have been chosen as targets was great fun and finally was revealed and explained. An entertaining and fast-paced mystery following a classic structure.
Taro lives alone in one of Tokyo’s anonymous block of flats. His family is far away and they are hardly in contact, his father died already ten years ago, yet the memories of him are still alive. His neighbours, he only knows the names that were given to the flats they inhabit, but not who is living close to him. Since the flats are going to be destroyed soon, they will have to leave anyway. One day, he observes a woman walking around the sky-blue house neighbouring their block. She seems to try to look into it through the window. When she realises that she is spotted, they make contact and Nishi explains Taro why she is behaving this strangely: the house is actually quite famous, she even possesses a book about its interior and her greatest wish is to enter and have a look herself. A singular friendship forms between the two neighbours, centred around a building close but far away for them.
Tomoka Shibasaki’s novel “Spring Garden” has many typical features of what I expect from Japanese literature. First of all, the characters. We have two protagonists who seem to live a life without close connection to other people, loneliness and isolation are reoccurring themes in Japan’s novels and from the news I read about the country this really seems to be a major topic. Yet, it is not the suffering from being alone that is central, they seem to have accepted that this is just how it is for them. When they finally bond with somebody – even if it is just a weak connection like the one of neighbours – there are many societal rules which prevent an honest friendship in my opinion. E.g. when Taro is given a present he does not like, it is not easy for him and he nevertheless feels obliged to behave in a certain manner. Even to eat things he doesn’t like in order not to appear impolite.
Some aspects I found really strange and I do not know if this is the case because the character of Taro is a bit bizarre or if this is just a cultural matter which is quite far from the world I life in. Taro keeps the mortar and pestle in his kitchen cupboard with which he turned the remains of his father’s bones into powder to distribute them. They remind him of the father and he frequently thinks about him when he comes across the two utensils. Both, first the idea of working on a deceased’s bones and keeping the utensils close to pots and pans is very astonishing to me to put it politely.
The most interesting part of the novel for me was the house that Taro and Nishi go to explore, first through the book and the outside, later also from the inside. It is not only the poetical language, especially about the lighting of the colourful windows, which makes it quite impressive, but also how human boing have an impact on the outer world. Even though the walls and windows are the same, with the change of the inhabitants, the whole ambiance can change and everybody leaves his mark on his surroundings.