Roxane's Reviews > Sukkwan Island

Sukkwan Island by David Vann
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's review
Jan 25, 2010

liked it
bookshelves: agency-author, mainstream, nature-writing
Read from February 10 to 12, 2010

Before properly reviewing this book, I have to mention two things.

First, this is not the sort of book I usually turn to. I admit that I mostly decided to check this out because it was translated by a friend of mine and that I wanted to have a better idea of what she worked on. That does not goes to say that I did not enjoy it. I think reading a outside of your comfort zone is always a positive experience.

Second, the French edition of this title does not exactly correspond to the original American edition which is entitled "Legend of a Suicide". "Sukkwan Island" is a novella part of "Legend of a Suicide" but the original book includes other short stories that complete the story told in the novella.

I finished this title a few days ago (being a novella, it was a fairly quick read, though not a light one by any means!) and I still don't really know what to think about it.

The first part of the novella, told from the point of view of the teenager, was really powerful; showing not just the technical and practical difficulties faced by father and son on this deserted island, but also the ugliness of human nature and the incapacity for this man to act as an adult, let alone as a father. So the son is forced to take matter in his own hands and well, there's no other way to this besides, that's when the book slaps you in the face!

Then, the narration's point of view shifts to the father and you feel a lot of pointless procrastination and meaningless mental wondering on the part of the father who sadly cannot come to terms with the novella's events, his life in general and his fatherhood. This character was constantly mistaken, so much so, that it is tragic. Till the end, he simply does not get it.

It's a tragic, poignant story that you probably shouldn't be reading if you're feeling down. It successfully depicts human nature in all its ugliness, selfishness and meaninglessness (is that even a word?) and it is well served by the short, incisive and bare style of the author.

However, despite all these qualities, I can't help but feel somewhat unsatisfied and frustrated by this reading. I couldn't figure out why until today. I initially thought it might have something to do with the gloomy aspect of the narration or perhaps, the crude narrative style. But now I doubt it.

When speaking with a friend about it I told her that I felt I may need to read more of the author's work to be able to put this novella into perspective and find a place for it in my mind, but also in the author's overall work. At the time, I was not aware of the fact that the French edition was in fact a truncated version of the original. I now believe that I would have needed to read the rest of the collection to have a clear opinion on this and do away with my own frustration.

I know a great many French readers did not feel this way so I'm not saying the editor was wrong to only publish one novella (I love Editions Gallmeister and I think they're doing the most fabulous work). I know how difficult it is to sell short stories collection these days. I'm glad this talented author has had a chance to be published in France, in a wonderful translation and is selling extremely well at that! I guess the frustration on my part can be interpreted as something positive in the sense that it means I need to read more from this author. Anyway, I definitely think this is an author to keep an eye on.

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