The Island Child by Molly Aitken

Molly Aitken's debut novel is an atmospheric tale of a mother and daughter on a remote Irish island

Book Review by Katie Goh | 31 Jan 2020
  • The Island Child by Molly Aitken
Book title: The Island Child
Author: Molly Aitken

On the remote Irish island of Inis, Oona grew up with her mother’s tall tales, superstitions and warnings spoken around the hearth. A wind-swept, precarious rock where the fishermen die by drowning and the women in childbirth, the island’s open skies start becoming a prison for Oona as she enters puberty, trapped inside while her brothers roam the land. On a dark, stormy night a shipwreck brings strangers and an escape rope from her mother’s fate.

The Island Child is two stories of two Oonas: the island child growing up in a claustrophobic, fear-mongering community, and the adult woman who must return to the island with a daughter of her own. For a debut novelist, Aitken has an impressive command of language, capturing the spirit of Inis in lush, sea-sprayed descriptions of the Irish coast.

Tone is clearly Aitken’s strongest asset as careful attention is given to characterising the island’s atmosphere, more so than to the inhabitants themselves. While Oona’s complicated love/hate relationship for the island is well articulated, other characters are often reduced to cardboard cutouts, propped up to support Oona’s own story and voice.

Firmly rooted in Irish folklore and tradition, The Island Child delicately touches on the community’s tensions with motherhood, gender, religion and guilt. While its supporting characters needed some expansion, Aitken beautifully captures the push and pull of homecoming and homegoing through her protagonist. The Island Child is an impressive debut.

Out now via Canongate, £14.99