“Gun Island” by Amitav Ghosh

Thanks to John Murray Press and NetGalley for the Advance Review Copy in exchange for an honest review.

I actually finished this book a number of weeks ago but wanted to ruminate on it for a while before I reviewed it. Did I like it? Yes..and no.

The story follows Deen, a rare books dealer of Bengali extraction. The Indian settings of Kolkata and the Sundarbans are portrayed evocatively, and Deen finds himself pulled back into a well-known local myth which might turn out to be more real than he assumes.

Along the way he meets Piya, an enigmatic marine biologist, Tipu, a rebellious young man and Rafi, who guards the shrine of the Gun Merchant. He is assisted by his old friend Cinta, a Venetian historian who has suffered more than her fair share of tragedy. Cinta was probably my favourite from the eclectic cast of characters we meet in this story.

If it’s all sounding a bit weird it’s because it is. Reality and myth become intertwined and history seems to repeat itself whilst Deen gets drawn deeper and deeper into the mystery. It’s part detective story, part folktale, part supernatural thriller and part commentary on climate change, human trafficking and the plight of migrants.

There were some points when reading this book that I felt a real sense of tension and dread and I thought the supernatural elements were the strongest aspect of the story. The first third or so felt really solid, but as the story progressed it all started to unravel. It seemed like the author was trying to do too many things at once and it all just ended up being a bit incoherent and frustrating to read.

It’s definitely an imaginative and unique story, I’m just not sure it managed to achieve what it set out to do.

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