Marianne Spence isn’t sure she wants to ignore the letter she receives inviting her to Skein Island. It drags up painful memories from her past that awaken her need to find answers to questions she never thought she would get the chance to explore. As she ponders whether she should accept the invite, a meeting with a stranger at the library she works in leads to a life changing incident.
After finding comfort in her husband’s arms, she packs a case and writes a goodbye note while he is sleeping. She leaves their home in the early hours of the morning to travel to Skein Island. It is a place that gives women the chance to have a week-long retreat from the rest of the world. In exchange for their opportunity to get some respite from their often unsatisfactory lives, the women must give a written declaration which is a story of their own to be added to the island’s vaults.
As the plot evolves we travel back through the history of the founder of the island, Lady Amelia Worthington, to discover her unsavoury activities during in WWII. Activities which led her to uncover a horror that has played with the world since the time of the Ancient Greeks. Marianne’s life goes in to a spin as it becomes clear that heroes and villains are real. It is just like the tales from the history books and it isn’t clear where Marianne or any other women fit in.
I read this whole book in one sitting. This book ticks so many of my boxes. Aliya Whiteley balances ancient mythology and modern story telling wonderful. There was a moment where I loudly gasped and clasped my hand over my mouth in shock, which made the people in the room I was reading in jump out of their skin.
Whiteley uses Homer as inspiration in Skein Island. She takes the hero’s journey then gives it a pull there and a twist here so that it has a fresh energy. This is something I really loved because to be honest as much as I enjoy the original Ancient Greek texts, there does tend to be a bit of waffle in there now and again.
There are some moments in the story that prompt you to think about the male and female stereotypes that still stand. The protagonist’s journey causes the reader to question roles within heteronormative relationships. The interaction between Marianne and the male figures around her highlights how patriarchal oppression is very much a thing in today’s world. It still leads to the parts women play in society being over looked and not talked about. There is a reason women tend to be missing from the history books.
In the divergent story line we are told about Marianne husband, David. Here the narrator gives an account of the male experience of the events in the plot. Whiteley hits on moments in his tale that illustrate how toxic masculinity can be something that feeds in to itself, sometimes resulting in extreme consequences.
I really enjoyed reading Skein Island. As I read it I couldn’t help thinking of how it had a similar feel to some of Angela Carter’s work. There were also parts that made me get that folk horror vibe. Something about Skein Island kept taking my mind to Summerisle from The Wicker Man. My inner book geek was very happy about the protagonist being a librarian and there were moments that genuinely made a little thrill of fear run down my spine.
I would recommend this book if you have a love of the classics, myths, folklore or fairy-tales with a bit of modern spice added in. I would also recommend this to your more classic sci-fi fans. Some of my favourite episodes of Star Trek, Buffy, Doctor Who, Red Dwarf, etc. have used ancient mythology as inspiration and I got the same enjoyment when reading Skein Island. Actually, I would love to see this as a Netflix series.
Skein Island by Aliya Whiteley is published by Titan Books. Click here to go to the site to get yourself a copy.