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24Feb

The Colony by Audrey Magee review – an allegory of the Troubles

Part piercing satire, part fable, this discomfiting novel sends an Englishman and a Frenchman to an Irish island on a fateful day in 1979

Audrey Magee’s debut novel, The Undertaking, was shortlisted for the Women’s prize in 2014. In this follow-up, an English painter named Mr Lloyd climbs with his luggage into a small, leaky currach and is rowed across the Irish Sea to an island off the west coast of Ireland. The island, “three miles long and half a mile wide”, is inhabited by fewer than 100 people. Most of these are native Irish speakers.

Lloyd has “come to paint the cliffs”. He certainly thinks like a painter. Lines set as verse make us privy to his imagistic cast of mind: “He looked then at the sea / rolling to shore / to rocks / to land / rolling from / white-fringed blue […] self-portrait: preparing for the sea crossing”. Lloyd wants to paint birds, seascapes, light; to “create them / as they already are” – a nice definition of what an artist does.

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