Gun Island Review: A New Awakening
Despite his shortcomings in crafting dialogues, Amitav Ghosh's latest climate fiction Gun Island is another surprisingly exhilarating read that evokes wonder in the reader
A few years ago, Amitav Ghosh warned us in The Great Derangement that we were looking away from the abyss. Climate change was the great crisis of our time and we seemed paralyzed, if not by fear then by some strange anomie. Even our imaginations, he said, were failing us, pointing to the absence of a literary response to a human-wrought catastrophe.
As if forced to write the book he wanted to read, Ghosh responded to his own criticisms with Gun Island, a novel set in an eroding, fast-disappearing world. Its protagonist—a Bengali rare book dealer whose life in Brooklyn is so quiet that he can be away for weeks without receiving so much as a text message—is an unlikely adventurer. Stepping into a plane, he notes, “It was as if I had entered an impregnably metallic, mechanical, man-made womb, where everything served to protect me from that world of mud and its slithering, creeping inhabitants.” But it is, of course, that world he must confront.
As he showed in his swashbuckling Ibis trilogy, Ghosh knows how to tell a tale. Gun Island is another exhilarating, surprising ride. Occasionally, Ghosh displays a heavy hand—his characters as wooden and ludicrous as those in any airport thriller. But he is not a writer of interiors, of human depths. He loves words while also having a tin ear for dialogue. However, Ghosh evokes wonder in the reader—for places and stories, for the natural and supernatural. And horror, too, at the unfolding Anthropocene, at the damage we have done and continue to do.