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Book review: The Summer Isles by Ian R MacLeod

by Marrick on September 10, 2012

The Summer IslesI read this over the last week and heartily recommend it to everyone, whether they are fans of "alternative" fiction or not. MacLeod writes well enough for this wonderful novel to be categorised as "literary fiction", and for me it was one of those non-stop reads: I just couldn##Q##t put down. Unfortunately, the asking price by the publishers – who only do short runs – is about £54, but you can get an audiobook of it from either iTunes or Audible for about £18 – less if you##Q##re a subscriber.

This is a powerfully gripping story of a closeted homosexual trying to survive in an alternate history London , Hugo finalist Ian R. MacLeod##Q##s novella The Summer Isles took readers by storm in 1998. First published in Asimov##Q##s Science Fiction, the novella explored what might happen had England become the equivalent of Nazi Germany. The novella went on to become a finalist for the 1999 Hugo Award and took home the 1999 World Fantasy Award.

It is the story of an Oxford don cast in a world where Britain lost the first world war, fascism has flourished and democracy has been abandoned. Jews are transported to camps in the Scottish islands, where they are never seen again, the left has largely been eradicated, and homosexuals are either slaughtered, or sent to be "cured". Griff (Geoffrey) Brooke, the Oxford don, is the narrative voice of this harrowing tale, and he tells the story of the great love of his life, who goes on to be the dictator of "Greater Britain".

Ian R. MacLeod’s The Summer Isles combines the profound melancholy of Orwell with the precise observance of Graham Green. Bursting with the sombre humanity of its narrator, the novel and its imagined milieu are charged with such emotional clarity, they seem artefacts of a history truer than the one we know. Lucius Shepard

The culmination of the novel leads Brooke to the fiftieth birthday party of his former lover, at which he plans to assassinate the man he once loved only to find he is a puppet in a greater plan. This is a story of loneliness, fear, love and what might have been. It##Q##s a story of how history is made by events and chance, and that the players, who pride themselves in being history makers are ultimately just in the right place at the right time.

There are few better writers in the genre at the moment and if you read one book before Christmas, make it this one.

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