Review: Gun Island

If you want a scathing indictment of the realities of climate change, read Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything. If you want excellent climate fiction, read Atwood’s Oryx and Crake, or Jemisin’s Hugo-winning Broken Earth trilogy. If you want magical realism done right, read Allende’s The House of the Sprits or Toni Morrison’s Beloved. 

If you want a confused mishmash of a book that could have been so much better, read Gun Island.

The premise of the book is interesting enough – a book dealer tries to get to the bottom of an old Bengali folk tale, and on the way finds his beliefs tested as the world goes to hell in a handbasket, thanks to what is either a series of increasingly unlikely climate-related coincidences or a vengeful Earth wreaking havoc on her tormentors. 

And truly, Gun Island is at its best when it talks about the legend of the Gun Merchant and his travels, and would have been a stellar work of creeping atmospheric horror and magical realism if only Mr Ghosh hadn’t felt the need to frequently bludgeon his audience with heavy-handed examples of the realities of climate change, the terrible fate of migrants to Europe, and the brutality of human smuggling and organ harvesting, to boot. Really, it’s a wonder that this book clocks in at 280 pages rather than thrice that. 

Although it may have been a better book if it had, because as it stands, the plot is paper thin and the characters flatter than the best crepes in Paris. The worst offender by far is the narrator, Deen, who can best be summed up by the fact that he thinks that the fact that he is a rare book dealer is why he is single. Sir. It’s not your job. It is 100% you, because you are a stodgy, stuck-up bloviating old fart who has no business helming a popsicle stand let alone a book. Really, I have no idea what either Cinta or Pia see in you except that you seem to be an authorial stand-in. 

And that is the fundamental problem with Gun Island. Mr Ghosh seems so hellbent on spreading the Gospel Of Climate Change that pretty much everything else – logic, continuity, believability – fly out the window. Add to that that Mr Ghosh seems to be under the mistaken impression that he needs to constantly prove his intelligence, his research chops, and the depth and breadth of his vocabulary, and I soon wished the snake that bit Tipu early on in the book had gotten Deen instead. 

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