The Island of Whispers by Brendan Gisby

whispersI hate rats.  I’m with George Orwell on that one. It’s room 101 to me. So I was reluctant to read this novel at first. I only did it because I love Gisby’s work and by now I’ve  read near on everything else he’s written so I needed to ‘fill in the gaps.’ An amazing thing happened. As I read through the book I found myself empathising with the plight of the rats and while I won’t say I loved them, I began at least to look at these rats in a totally different light. Because this book is cut out of the same cloth as Orwell’s Animal Farm and Richard Adams’ Watership Down.  But it’s even more clever in my opinion. Because it’s darker. And rats are just the right animal for what is essentially an examination of society and the politics that governs it. On one reading I know I haven’t fully plumbed the depths of this aspect but I do know there is a depth to be plumbed. If you want to. If you don’t, there’s still a cracking dark story of the way society works.  If you were to anthropomorphise rats they wouldn’t be like rabbits now would they? No, and that’s what’s so clever about the story.  You never feel like you want to pick them up and cuddle them. You feel like you’re in the middle of some Stalinist pogrom for much of the time and that sense of unease is quite important to the story. Gisby plays with our emotions in order to make us think not just about rats but about ourselves and our own social relations. The story also explores the relationship between man and rat. On the surface there’s an inoffensive little story of people celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Bridge across the Forth. In the background, is what happens ‘under’ the bridge.  In the process of which the tables are turned and the background becomes the foreground. The ‘anniversary’ is essentially unimportant (to the rats at least!)  I like this clever repositioning of priorities. It shows up so clearly that this is a story of what goes on underneath, behind the scenes, in the background. Which of course is why rats are so appropriate. I hate the ‘fact’ that we are all supposed to be no more than five feet away from a rat  at any time. I’ve had two houses infested by rats. One was an old farm house so you’d ‘expect’ that would you? The other was a new build – cunningly newly built on land that had ‘belonged’ to rats and which it seems they weren’t that keen to give up.  And maybe that experience gives me enough insight to actually engage with the lives of the rat colony on the Island of Inchgarvie. Not to like them you understand, but to accept that they exist, or even co-exist with me in the world. Whether I like them or not. As a child we occasionally picnicked on Inchcolm Island in the Forth.  I’m glad we never went to Inchgarvie. Strangely however, in the process of  reading this book I became quite keen for Twisted Foot and his crew to ‘make it’ to a place of safety, I’m not sure I want to meet them face to face. But I cared about them in the way that a great book makes you care about characters.  If Twisted Foot wasn’t a rat I’d be his friend! And so maybe in reading this story I’ve learned something about the importance of live and let live.  There’s a further clue in the dedication! Gisby dedicates this book ‘to all good rats everywhere’ and that insight suggests to me that maybe we all need to think a bit more carefully about  what it means to be a rat. And what it means to be good.

miniamazonYou can get The Island of Whispers on Amazon as an ebook  OR as a paperbackminiwhiteamazon

Or visit Brendan Gisby’s author page for MORE OF HIS WORK


Cally is a member of the Reading Between the Lines review collective 


About callyphillips

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