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Pascali's Island

3.49  ·  Rating details ·  274 Ratings  ·  24 Reviews
The year is 1908, the place, a small Greek island in the declining days of the crumbling Ottoman Empire. For twenty years Basil Pascali has spied on the people of his small community and secretly reported on their activities to the authorities in Constantinople. Although his reports are never acknowledged, never acted upon, he has received regular payment for his work. Now ...more
Paperback, 192 pages
Published November 17th 1997 by W. W. Norton Company (first published 1980)
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Mar 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A remarkable study of paranoia, supplication, and weakness--hardly the usual stuff of novels, especially historical ones. But Unsworth pulls off quite a feat here. His narrator, Basil Pascali, is a spy. Not your ordinary spy, though. He's an informant for the Ottoman Empire, stationed on a remote Greek island in 1908, when the Ottomans are in terminal decline. Nonetheless, he dutifully pens his observations to the Ottoman Emperor himself--the "Lord of the world" and "shadow of God on earth"--obs ...more
An atmospheric and rather curious story set on an Aegean island in 1908 that is part of the dying Ottoman empire, this is the sixth book I have read from the 1980 Booker shortlist, and in such a strong year it is probably the least impressive. Unsworth has written better books, notably Morality Play and his Booker winner Sacred Hunger.

The narrator Basil Pascali is a paid informer for the Ottomans, but this post is insufficient to sustain him and his pay has not increased in the 20 years he has b
Vit Babenco
Apr 16, 2013 rated it really liked it
Pascali’s Island is a moral tale on the nature of treachery and it demonstrates a very special atmosphere of despondency. A charming Englishman was a professional conman so betraying the trust of the others was his artistry.
“I do not believe him. That flower of betrayal, which grows with its own urgency now, outside my control – I feel its petals expand. It luxuriates in my distrust of him, and its scent is sickening, desolating. A swamp plant, Excellency, growing in the corruption of my hopes,
Jonathan Pool
The only reason I can think of to read Pascalis Island (apart from its Booker credentials as a shortlist contender in 1980), is if you have never read any Graham Greene.
Unfortunately Pascalis Island is a poor, poor imitation of Greene's fine work, and has too many weaknesses to list here.
I wondered why there were so few ratings for this book (245 at February 3), for a three time Booker Prize nominee, and joint winner in 1992.

I now know why.

At least it's a short book and a quick read.
Jul 16, 2012 rated it liked it
I was very impressed by Unsworth's Booker-winning Sacred Hunger, and I recently read the sequel, The Quality of Mercy -- so I was pleased to receive this via my postal book group. It displays the same dazzling style as the other two but other than that doesn't have much in common!

Strangely, it reminded me of Stephen Benatar's Wish Her Safe at Home, although the setting is completely different. Both of them have a compellingly unreliable narrator. Unlike Rachel, Pascali is quite open about makin
Mahmut Şenol
Jul 21, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I mesmerized by this marvelous book! Protagonist reminds me Bay Konsolos character of mine... ...more
Evi Routoula
Aug 27, 2017 rated it liked it
1908, σε ένα νησί στο Αιγαίο που δεν κατονομάζεται ( μάλλον η Σάμος ή η Σύμη), ένας τύπος ονόματι Πασκάλι εργάζεται ως σπιούνος της ψυχορραγούσας Οθωμανικής αυτοκρατορίας. Ένας Γερμανός προσπαθεί να συνάψει κάποια εμπορική συμφωνία. Μια Γαλλοεβραία πλούσια ζωγράφος ερωτεύεται έναν Άγγλο αρχαιολόγο, που θέλει να αποσπάσει στα κρυφά ένα αρχαίο άγαλμα. Υποψήφιο για Μπούκερ το 1980, γυρίστηκε ταινία το 1988 με τον Μπεν Κίνγκσλειι στο ρόλο του Πασκάλι, την Έλεν Μίρεν στο ρόλο της ζωγράφου και τον Τσα ...more
Jan 17, 2018 rated it it was ok
Another book about horrible people doing horrible things. Not as bad as the god of Small Things, but still a pleasure to be finished and rid of the awful Mr Pascali.
Jun 28, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Richard by:
Shelves: fiction
The editors of The Wilson Quarterly have provided a casual reading list for summer, and two books caught my eye.
James Carman: Basil Pascali, the protagonist of Barry Unsworth’s short, gripping novel Pascali’s Island (1997), is a spy for the sultan in the dying days of the Ottoman Empire. From his remote outpost on an Aegean island, he’s been sending reports to Istanbul that no one reads for years. Lately, nervous about losing his much-needed pay, he’s begun “embellishing” his messages, weaving e
THE IDOL HUNTER (aka PASCALI’S ISLAND). (1980). Barry Unsworth. ***1/2.
Mad Magazine used to feature a cartoon strip called “Spy vs. Spy.” In that strip, spies, dressed alike but from two different ‘sides’ battled over information or money or whatever both sides wanted. This novel is much like that. Pascali has been acting as an agent – or spy – for functionaries of the Turkish government for over twenty years. He is being paid to do so on a regular basis. The Turks pay on time. Problem is that i
Diana Sandberg
Jun 21, 2009 rated it really liked it
Well.....I found it slow to read, though quite a slim book. I think I liked it better once I’d finished it than while I was reading it, if that makes any sense. Once I had the whole concept in view, I found it really quite interesting, but the execution was not so compelling as perhaps it should have been. The brilliance I found in Morality Play is evident here but not complete.

I really like the idea that what I read would have been a great swashbuckling romance, if told from the point of view o
Jan 15, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
Unsworth is a phenomenal writer and has a wonderful command of language and the imagery of his descriptions were excellent.

However the novel was rather meh. The protagonist is an 'anti-hero' and a lonely, sad, and tortured individual and while he displayed some moments of humor or wit, overall Pascali is not entirely likeable, so it was difficult for me to fully immerse into the story and his environment.

The novel is written as a collection of letters and unfold the narrative in the past tense
Robert Wechsler
Apr 24, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: british-lit
I was torn for years about reading Barry Unsworth. I’d read that he was interested in ethical issues, but his writing seemed too standard realist. I tried this novel, because it’s relatively short for him, and it seemed a little less straightforward. And it was. However, it was very dependent on the narrator’s voice and, although the writing was excellent, the voice was not. It was not very believable, nor was it very interesting. And he was not a person for whom ethical issues were very importa ...more
Mar 21, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: literary-fiction
This short novel was pretty good. It's set on a small Greek Island in 1908 and is narrated by Basil Pascali, a neglected informer for the decaying Ottoman Empire. Pascali has recently come to believe that the islanders are on to him, and his is becoming slightly paranoid. Into this situation comes Anthony Bowles an Englishman with archeological aspirations who turns out to be part charlatan, part visionary. The interaction between Bowles and Pascali leads to intrigue and betrayal. The style of t ...more
Jul 17, 2012 rated it really liked it
Wonderfully written -- descriptions of light and scene, and amazing characterization of the central character, Pascali, who is a professional informer for the crumbling Ottoman Empire, living on a remote Greek island as the larger world convulses (1908). Intrigue and desperation prevade; after a rather gradual introduction in the first half of the book, the drama escalates to an inevitable clash of selfish wills and competing cultures. Good book by a great author.
Aug 06, 2011 rated it it was ok
A brilliant book!
"It's not the mastery of language. Nor is it the precision with which Unsworth draws his characters. It is, rather, the skill, always evident in his work, with which he illuminates moral dilemnas that makes this book unforgettable. An intense foray into the mind and heart of am informer, this novel will touch all those who have ever wanted to tell their own story but felt unworthy. A very disturbing and moving work." an review
Blaine DeSantis
May 15, 2014 rated it liked it
In reality it is about a 2.5 for me. I have read other of Unworth's work and this one just left me cold. Could not figure out exactly what this was about and exactly who Bowles really was and what he was really after. Had this been the first book I read of Unsworth I am not sure I would have read another.
Sep 21, 2012 rated it liked it
Fast read, though the action is slow going until the halfway mark and then it basically doesn't slow down until the end. I'd put this book in historical fiction/mystery if I had to categorize it based from my read of it.
Nov 25, 2016 rated it it was ok
As a book, it's chaotic and seemingly pointless. Taken paragraph by paragraph, metaphor by metaphor, it's brilliant. I am not at all sure what the book is supposed to be about, if not the inherent falsity of art, of depiction.
My first Barry Unsworth novel, and one that also taught me a lot about what the word Byzantine actually meant. The intersection of a Turkish spy who never actually spoke to any of his masters and an Englishman hunting for archaeological booty makes for a great yarn.
review pemding
Jan 12, 2012 rated it liked it
Intriguing if deliberately constrained portrait of a man for whom deception now comes too easily.
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Feb 21, 2014
rated it it was amazing
Sep 22, 2016
Helen Taylor
rated it it was amazing
Aug 23, 2014
Kari Cousins
rated it it was amazing
Jan 05, 2015
Jan Colle
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Sep 08, 2014
B. Kim Barnes
rated it it was amazing
Jun 09, 2012
rated it it was ok
Feb 09, 2015
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The Mookse and th...: 1980 Shortlist: Pascali's Island 7 22 Mar 20, 2017 02:13AM  
  • The Deposition of Father McGreevy
  • The Colour of Blood
  • An Awfully Big Adventure
  • The Industry of Souls
  • Chatterton
  • Scar Tissue
  • Europa
  • Beside the Ocean of Time
  • The 27th Kingdom
  • Under the Frog
  • Last Letters from Hav
  • Flying to Nowhere
  • Goshawk Squadron
  • The Greek Achievement: The Foundation of the Western World
  • Eva Trout
  • The Children of Dynmouth
  • Impossible Object
  • The Redundancy of Courage
Barry Unsworth was born in 1930 in a mining village in Durham, and he attended Stockton-on-Tees Grammar School and Manchester University, B.A., 1951.

From 1951-53, in the British Army, Royal Corps of Signals, he served and became second lieutenant.

A teacher and a novelist, Unsworth worked as a lecturer in English at Norwood Technical College, London, at University of Athens for the British Council
More about Barry Unsworth...

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