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The Island Walkers: A Novel
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The Island Walkers: A Novel

3.48  ·  Rating details ·  654 Ratings  ·  51 Reviews
Longlisted for the Man Booker Prize

A Finalist for the 2003 Giller Prize

Across a bend of Ontario's Attawan River lies the Island, where, for generations, the Walkers have lived among other mill workers. But in the summer of 1965, with the threat of mill closures looming, the Walkers grapple with their personal crises, just as the rest of the town fights to protect its way o
Paperback, 464 pages
Published February 1st 2005 by Picador (first published 2003)
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Description: It is 1965, and when a large corporation takes over the mill, and workers attempt to unionize, Alf's actions inadvertently set in motion a series of events that will reverberate far into the future and burden him with an unspoken shame. This is also the year when his eldest son, Joe, falls headlong for a girl he first glimpses on a bridge - and his world is overturned by the passion and uncertainty of young love. The bittersweet story of Joe and Anna is juxtaposed against his father
Aug 17, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
I absolutely loved this book. I loved it so much in fact that I hugged it after I finished.

It's the story of the Walkers, particularly father Alf and oldest son Joe, but it's also the story of a whole town maybe even of a specific time. Small town politics play a big role in this story. Everyone knows everyone and that comes with positives but also negatives. How do you leave your past behind when it's not just your past, it's shared by the whole town?

Alf and the Mill are the central story her
Jan 02, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A much more complex book than I was expecting. Yes, it is about a small town, dependant on the local textile mill and the changes that occur when a big corporation takes it over and the workers try to form a union. But it is also about so much more. Constant references to divisions: real divisions – class, labor, economic, racial, and educational – and the metaphorical: the river, the island, and the train trestle. The characters are fully developed and interesting. The story is dark yet ends wi ...more
Beautiful prose style and descriptive prose, but I just couldn't care less about the plot and the characters weren't sufficiently interesting to draw me in either. Maybe if Joe had gotten his rich girlfriend (who was also a poet and half-French and ever so sensitive and different from every other girl ever - ugh!) pregnant and then taken her out on the river on a boat ... wait, that's An American Tragedy.... A snoozefest, and I don't think I'm going to be reading anything else by this author.
Aug 13, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: canada
Reading this on the Kindle without a blurb and having forgotten what it was about, I was expecting some historic Cape Breton thing... not at all. The island is a river-bound bit of a Southern Ontario mill town, the Walkers are a family and it all unfolds in (only slightly atmospheric) 1965-66: the abutting stories of the members of the family, particularly of the middle-aged father feeling union pressure and his teenaged son with girl problems. People living together and yet not together - in fa ...more
Dec 04, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
only a few chapters in but i am really enjoying it. Bemrose has a real gift for developing characters - or rather letting them develop themselves, for that is what it feels like. it feels so natural and organic. his writing never feels manipulative or forced. AND on top of that he has a beautiful sense of language. i'm looking forward to immersing myself in the story.

finishing the book with only one minor criticism. The Island Walkers essentially tells the story of a man and his teenage son. and
Sharon Plett
I did not like this story. I did not sympathize with the characters and I found it dreadfully heavy. I kept waiting for something good to happen in the book but Bemrose does not reward the reader at the end for sticking with this fictional family. The ONLY reason I kept reading to the very bitter end is that John Bemrose is a very good writer. So while I did not like Bemrose's story, I do enjoy his writing style and recognize that he is a very talented writer.

I enjoyed the Canadian setting and descriptions of water ways, old buildings and vehicles. Interesting every day story, and perspective from the male main characters. First 3/4 of the book are intertwined experiences, then it seems people in the story fizzle out. The ending was not at all what I expected, and left me wondering the fate of two of the young boys in the story. (?)
M Robin
Mar 04, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is tragic, unforgettable and pervaded with a certain sense of hopelessness. Because that doesn't sell it very well, I'll add: I really loved it. Hold your loved ones close and be thankful and fight for any agency you do have in your life. The characters in The Island Walkers have regrettably too little.
J. Ewbank
This book by Bemrose is about a family. The family has their share of problems. From an idealistic father to other problems it is a very interesting and good story. I enjoyed it.

J. Robert Ewbank author "Wesley's Wars" and "John Wesley, Natural Man, and the Isms"
Feb 15, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Wonderful, full of live, typical Canadian way of living, in small towns, far from the quotidian big town fuss, where everything is tightly linked to an industrial site, which when is closed by corporate decisions everything is going sadly down. Loved this book.
Sep 06, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I picked this up in an airport and it was a good slice-of-life novel. Hit on some of the seedier sides of life, and was made more interesting by a kid's perspective.
Jul 28, 2015 marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Wanda by: Bettie☯
28 JUL 2015 - another terrific recommendation from Bettie. Many thanks!
Gail Fenton
Sep 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Sad it's over. Was an amazing escape. Poignant and brilliantly constructed. Wow.
Feb 21, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: other-books
John Bemrose is a very talented writer and it's easy to understand why this book was a Giller Prize Finalist. The plot is well thought out and the characters well defined. I especially enjoyed that the small southwestern town is most likely Paris Ont. Reading this book is an invitation to revisit Paris. Throughout the book, descriptive details often took on a life of their own, sometimes to the detriment of the story. It was unfortunate that no one in the book ever felt happiness and so the book ...more
May 24, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Feb 08, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I really thought I was going to enjoy this book but I found it heavy, not in subject matter but in the way it was written. It dragged me down. I couldn't warm to any of the characters and by that token didn't care about their lives or what happened to them. There was nothing joyous about it, not in story line nor in its prose. That doesn't mean to say that I only read books which are comfortable - even with deeply uncomfortable books the writing can sing to you - this didn't.
Jan 16, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The title of "The Island Walkers" is as deceptive as many things in this book. It refers to a family named Walker who live in an island neighborhood in Attawan, Ontario (as opposed to a Walker family in the flats neighborhood) - not a group of nomadic mariners. Much of the deception is sudden and surprising, and Bemrose repeatedly uses the harshness and beauty of nature to parallel the human condition. The book is set in the 1960's and centers on the family of Alf Walker, a worker at Bannerman M ...more
Peter B
It says Giller finalist on the cover which is usually an indication of a pretty good novel and this one started strong. A mill town with a union at the door. An unhappy wife locked in a marriage with a man who seems satisfied not to be a foreman. The protagonist, Alf Walker puts himself in a compromising situation from which there is no good way out and ends up choosing the least honorable solution which ultimately comes back to get him.
Unfortunately, the author seems to have lost sight of his c
Apr 08, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
What a stupid book. At times was interesting, I kept thinking something was gonna happen. But it just sort of meandered. I hated the girlfriend Anna. She was annoying, a real pain in the neck. Couldn't stand her cavalier attitude. And what the hell was up with a little girl taking off all her clothes and hearing voices?! What was that about? It was never explained. And I gotta say, you can't just bring up a topic like sexual abuse of a child and then just never revisit it. I thought at least the ...more
Dec 19, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It was really good, right up to the end. There were a few things unexplained that bothered me. I'm not one that is usually bothered with messy endings because life rarely ends neatly. But what was the voice Jamie heard? Did Penny end up with any friends? Who was the person Alf saw in the window? How does Billy end up? Did Joe ever see Anna again. Sigh... The writing was fantastic and I loved it, but I wish it finished a bit better.
Jan 11, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2011
This Giller Finalist has been sitting on my night table for far too long. Took it along to the beach; it was great! Story follows an Ontario family in the mid-50s. Everyone in the family has their own story, from the Dad still dealing with his stint in France during WWII to the youngest son who befriends an Aboriginal boy, much to the chagrin of his English war bride mother. Well written; worth a read.
Jul 23, 2011 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
c2003. Well written but not an enjoyable book for me at all. I found the story too depressing for my present state of mind. I don't like anything to do with unions anyway and there was only one way that the story could end. This book made the Man Booker Prize 2004 long list which should have given me a heads up that it would not exactly be a fun read. Not for me I am afraid. "The pale photo was like a reflection of distant sunlight, a lost afternoon."
Nov 12, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: bob
I loved the prose writing style.
“… I can’t smell horse manure without thinking of vanilla ice cream”.
“What was time? It certainly wasn’t what got measured by watches. That time was a tidy illusion, made for businessmen. Real time was something else, wild and unknowable. Just now it seemed that time had only been born that instant, everything was fresh with the impetus of new beginnings, the infant skull of the moon riding over his shoulder.”
Apr 13, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I was drawn into this novel as an outsider with the ability to see how all characters interacted with one another; I was privy, as the reader, to the private thoughts and actions of each character and I developed close bonds with those who admired and related to, the more openly flawed/devious character I of the best books I've read in years....who will u rooting for??
Dec 28, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: literary-fiction
Loved, loved, loved this book. I am coming to it late but someone recommended. It reminded me of my childhood and teenage years. The language was the perfect amount of description mixed with plot. I could see his settings in my mind's eye. I was a little surprised by the ending but it did not change my opinion of the book.
Heavy and depressing read. The writing was good, but the characters were so boring and dull. Descriptive to the point of skipping several passages to get to a part with actual storyline. I gave it a fair shot, but could not finish. Life is too short to finish books that do not hold my attention.

Feb 21, 2010 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: canada
This book is described as confirming life's regenerative power - but it was too little too late as far as I was concerned. The author relates the setting beautifully - the rivers, the sunsets, the town itself - and describes every detail of the characters thoughts and actions, but when I was finally halfway through the book, I could barely care less. Disappointing.
Feb 04, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a beautifully written story. I have given it 5 stars - not because it was "perfect" but it is a simple story about a family. The plot was not predictable - which I liked very much. Also loved this book because it is Canadian.
Started this book long ago and was unable to stay with it. Finally made the effort to finish it. At page 157 it started to engage me and I was able to finally enjoy this book. Small town story, love and hate, what ends up killing small towns.
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