Caribou Island

David Vann

Caribou Island

On a small island in a glacier-fed lake on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula, a marriage is unravelling. Gary, driven by thirty years of diverted plans, and Irene, haunted by a tragedy in her past, are trying to rebuild their life together. Following the outline of Gary’s old dream, they’re hauling logs out to Caribou Island in good weather and in terrible storms, in sickness and in health, to patch together the kind of cabin that drew them to Alaska in the first place. Across the water on the mainland, Irene and Gary’s grown daughter, Rhoda is starting her own life. She fantasizes about the perfect wedding day, whilst her betrothed, Jim the dentist, wonders about the possibility of an altogether different future. 4.0 out of 5 based on 14 reviews
Caribou Island

Omniscore:

Classification Fiction
Genre General Fiction
Format Paperback
Pages 304
RRP £8.99
Date of Publication January 2011
ISBN 978-0670918447
Publisher Penguin
 

On a small island in a glacier-fed lake on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula, a marriage is unravelling. Gary, driven by thirty years of diverted plans, and Irene, haunted by a tragedy in her past, are trying to rebuild their life together. Following the outline of Gary’s old dream, they’re hauling logs out to Caribou Island in good weather and in terrible storms, in sickness and in health, to patch together the kind of cabin that drew them to Alaska in the first place. Across the water on the mainland, Irene and Gary’s grown daughter, Rhoda is starting her own life. She fantasizes about the perfect wedding day, whilst her betrothed, Jim the dentist, wonders about the possibility of an altogether different future.

Read the Omnivore's roundup for Legend of a Suicide

Reviews

The Times

Tom Gatti

...it is [bleak]. But the prose is so lucid and invigorating that Caribou Island is not depressing. As a portrait of stymied lives and broken dreams, it is more vivid than the most-praised novel of last year, Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom, which feels like a soap opera — albeit a Pulitzer prize-winning one — in comparison. And there are moments of delicious black humour...

15/01/2011

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The Daily Mail

Eithne Farry

Vann’s prose has a stripped down elegance, a stop-start poetry that lends a terrible weight to the emotional disintegration that afflicts all the characters in the book, as they voice their doubts and dissatisfaction … Bleak, but brilliant.

27/01/2011

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The Daily Telegraph

Thomas Marks

Vann’s ability to hear the texture of words sometimes seems Heaneyesque in its virtuosity: consider the sentence “salmon all round his feet, silvery and gasping, flopping and sliding in their own froth of slime, blood and seawater”, where the sounds of the flop and slide return with grotesque inevitability in that “froth of slime”. There are only a few occasions where the narrative voice lingers for just too long in Irene’s consciousness and the thrilling intensity of this writing begins to wane.

20/01/2011

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Times Literary Supplement

Toby Lichtig

The writing in Caribou Island is brilliantly spare and the blurb’s comparison with Cormac McCarthy is fully justified. The resemblance is there in the descriptions of nature and industry, seasonal changes, the harshness of the climate, the methodical fishing and smoking of salmon, the hammering of nails and fetching of wood, the stark revelations of boredom and despair.

14/01/2011

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The Financial Times

Jake Kerridge

Although Vann handles his portrayal of marital atrophy expertly, readers of Updike, Ford, Franzen and a dozen others may feel that they’ve seen the same thing done just as well before. What really distinguishes Vann’s work is his feel for his wintry setting... [A] bleak, beautifully written and bitterly funny novel

17/01/2011

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The Literary Review

Tim Martin

A startlingly grotesque conclusion doesn’t quite seem to follow naturally from the rest of the book, but for most of its length this is a quietly impressive and determinedly downbeat novel, one that will appeal to readers with a strong tolerance for everyday despair.

01/12/2010

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The Economist

The Economist

...It does not disappoint. Mr Vann’s brilliance as a writer lies in his willingness to expose everything — all the worst that Gary and Irene think of one another, those silent imaginings born of icy fury that can freeze a marriage to death.

13/01/2011

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The Independent on Sunday

Doug Johnstone

Caribou Island, although it has to be said that it still packs an almighty punch, slightly lacks the brutal, shocking force of its predecessor ... [It] is a bleak book, as bleak as an Alaskan winter, but it also wields an unforgiving, elemental power that is breathtaking to read.

23/01/2011

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The Washington Post

Ron Charles

Vann, who was born in Alaska, handles conflicted feelings of love and resentment, and the raw, existential cries of ordinary people, extraordinarily well. And although he's a graceful writer, he never spins the kind of poetic prose that infects too many literary novels with distracting prettiness. But is the ending too much, too Gothic, too masochistic in its determination to make these hapless characters pay for surviving, for imagining that hope isn't a cheat?

11/01/2011

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The New York Times

Kevin Canty

...all the men in this novel are chasing the unreal, burning bridges, spending time and energy and human connection in pursuit of the impossible. And this is where I parted company with the book. I finally wanted to slap these men in the face — wake them up, stop them from sleepwalking into the catastrophe I knew was coming... Over all, though, Caribou Island gets to places other novels can’t touch. By the end, I felt the senseless logic of the dream.

21/01/2011

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The Evening Standard

Melanie McGrath

Alaska is what makes this novel a truly American work, and not simply in the most obvious way but also because in Western literature, at least, only the American writer, more especially the male American writer, still grapples closely with all that wilderness represents; the fault line between the rugged promises of the American Dream and the windswept, mud-sunk, mosquito-laden reality. Vann's spare, incisive, craggy prose is wonderfully suited to descriptions of this, America's last frontier, and the place of "dreams that never happened, or happened only briefly".

20/01/2011

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The Sunday Telegraph

Charles Fernyhough

For its first half, this story of unhappy human relationships is strangely unfocused, with much jumping around between perspectives, as though Vann couldn’t quite decide whose story he wanted to tell. The style is hard to warm to ... In its second half, though, the story catches fire.

30/01/2011

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The New Statesman

Olivia Laing

The book is marred by a tic already evident in Legend, but which has ballooned here to deforming proportions. Vann likes to construct sentences without certain words, particularly the verb "to be" in all its forms … the accretion of these unfinished sentences becomes progressively irritating, until it is like being whipped across the eyes.

10/02/2011

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The Guardian

Patrick Ness

What's missing, crucially, is the control of the previous book. Vann seems less sure what to do here, and the effect keeps kicking his reader out of the narrative.

29/01/2011

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