Originally published: 2 June 2022
Author: Cathy Thomas
Published by: Virago
Genre: Short stories
Length: 224 pages
Reading dates: 4-6 June 2022
Annie needs to lose her virginity, so she’s waiting in a car park for Paul.
Paul needs drugs for the party, but he’s got to keep an eye on his sister, Josie.
Josie needs a father figure. Or that’s how it seems to her driving instructor, Neil.
Eva needs to get away from the island. She could do without bumping into the school bully, Kat.
Claire needs to drink herself into the mood for the hen do. But she’s been betrayed by her childhood friend, Becky. And she can’t stop thinking about what’s happened to her sister, Kat…
Set on the island of Guernsey over a period of twenty years, these closely linked stories reveal the desires, friendships, betrayals, regrets and heartaches of twelve intertwined people. Against a backdrop of picturesque cliffs and beaches, grimy clubs and pubs and chip shops, their stumbling attempts to connect with each other are depicted with wrenching pathos, wry humour and moving empathy.
Just by chance in the last month or so I have read two sets of short stories, both looking at different characters from the same community. Islanders is set on the beautiful island of Guernsey and follows 12 islanders and is set over a period of around 20 years. Each story focusses on one character and gives a brief snapshot of their life – usually each story only covered a matter of days but the author had a fabulous way of drawing you straight into that character’s thoughts.
The characters aren’t always sympathetic (although I think they all have redeeming features). We get a sense of what it must be like living on an island of just 63,000 people, how sometimes the stories gave a sense of claustrophobia. In the year 2000, we start with Paul and his friends who are looking for drugs to take to a party. The next story is about teenager Annie in 2001, who has arranged to meet Paul to loose her virginity. In later stories we hear from her friends, Claire and Becky at different points in their lives, as well as Claire’s older sister Kat. The stories often link to a character we have heard from or about before and I loved this connection.
I feel Islanders gives us a look at a different Guernsey to how the tourists see it – the drug use and the less affluent areas but what I found interesting was that hardly any of the characters appear to leave permanently.
I absolutely loved this book! An absorbing and well-conceived character driven novel, I’d urge you to read this. Islanders is a brilliant debut from Cathy Thomas and I’m certain it is one that will be in my top 10 of 2022!
Thank you to Elke for persuading me to accept a copy and Virago Books for sending it to me!
About the author:
Cathy Thomas grew up in the South West of England on on Guernsey. She now lives in London. Her short fiction has appeared in publications including the Stinging Fly, Banshee and Litro. She has an MA in playwriting and was selected for the 2014/5 Jerwood/Arvon Mentoring Scheme as a dramatist.