Review: On The Isle of Antioch - Amin Maalouf
Genre: literary fiction,
Published: World Editions Publishing, December 2023
My Rating: 2/5 stars
On The Isle of Antioch is an ambitious literary fable, taking inspiration and elements from multiple different mythos in its pondering of interpersonal and societal issues. On top, all of that is placed in against a futuristic dystopian background with quite a bit of sci-fi elements… Sound chaotic? Unfortunately, it read that way too…
We follow our protagonist Alec, a lawyer turned cartoonist, working from the remote island off the Canadian shore he owns half off. His sole regular contact is his equally solitary neighbor Eve, who owns the other half of the isle, and the ferryman trafficking goods and people from the mainland and back.
When one day, a massive power-outage, followed by the second-hand accounts of a societal collapse and imminent nuclear war reach their shores, Eve and Alec are forced to rely on each other, not only to survive, but to solve the mystery of a secretive society inspired by Ancient Greek philosophies that claims to have a hand in recent events.
I’m all in favour of clever novels that dare to take a risk, and mix-and-match elements we don’t usually see together. Unfortunately the risk that Amin Maalouf took here, didn’t quite pay off for me. With its incredibly wide spectrum of influences, references, genres and themes it attempts to address, the sum of these parts feels incoherent and mismatched. A scope this wide in a novel this short, leads to an exploration of each individual topic that feels too surface level to be of use.
With a name like Maaloufs attached to it, I can see this novel finding a small but strong fanbase in the “higher literary circles”, praising the deeper connections between references that obviously flew over my head. I can see some of these connections, digging into my own interest in Greek mythology and looking into the authors professional background, yet still they are a reach if you ask me. That being said, I’m growing increasingly impatient of “smart” literary novels that require a PhD in its source mythology, or a vast pre-existing knowledge of its subject matter. It’s not a sign of a “clever” novel to me, but a failure of writing a text that can exist as its own thing, without relying on elitist pre-existing knowledge from the reader.
To stay on theme with the Greek references: this book was Icarus. Taking on too many separate things in its ambition, flying too high and eventually nosediving with a disappointing splash into the Atlantic Ocean for its own coasts…
Many thanks to World Editions Publishing for providing me with an ARC in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
You can find this book here on Goodreads.