The novel is set on a small Greek island in 1908. The Ottoman Empire is about to fall, but in this remote outpost a government informer pens his last report to the Sultan. Basil Pascali, an outsider of mixed-race, has loyally reported on the activities of the people of his community for twenty years, each month receiving a tiny stipend, but never a single response. As a writer he begins to take liberties with his reports, taking enormous pride in his ability to depict events with great clarity and flair. When Englishman Anthony Bowles arrives on the island, he and Pascali become rivals for the affection of Lydia, a Viennese artist who has been living there for some time. Pascali suspects that Bowles may not be honest about his claim to be an archeologist (it takes a practiced confidence-trickster to recognise another of his kind, after all), so what is he doing there? The atmospheric short novel is superbly plotted, there isn't a scene out of place. Nothing is as it seems and Pascali's Island keeps you guessing right up to the tragic ending as the characters become enmeshed in layers betrayal and deceit. Literary fiction honestly doesn't come much better than this and I am actually surprised that the novel didn't win more recognition at the time. It was shortlisted for the Booker in 1980, but was eclipsed by William Golding's win for Darkness Visible and Anthony Burgess' masterpiece Earthly Powers. I've read several other novels by Unsworth which I've greatly enjoyed and admired (Morality Play, Rum and Sugar, Losing Nelson, and Sacred Hunger, which finally did won Unsworth the Booker) but I like this by far the best. (I still have his latest novel A Ruby in her Navel to be read.) Pascali's Island reminded me of several other novels I've greatly enjoyed : E.M. Forster's Passage to India, L.P. Hartley's The Go-Between, and the episode about the smugglers in Lermentov's A Hero of our Time ... all of them written much earlier.
Very disturbing and penetrating
Published by Thriftbooks.com User , 21 years ago
It's not the mastery of language. Nor is it the precision with which Unsworth draws his characters. It is, rather, the skill, always evident in his work, with which he illuminates moral dilemnas that makes this book unforgettable. An intense foray into the mind and heart of am informer, this novel will touch all those who have ever wanted to tell their own story but felt unworthy. A very disturbing and moving work, like all of his other novels that I have read.
Published by Thriftbooks.com User , 22 years ago
I don't know anything about the author, Barry Unsworth, but this is a masterful work of fiction. It reads like a classic. It's engaging and well thought through. reminded me of Hemingway by way of Camus.I read this after vacationing in the Greek isles, and the book definitely opened my eyes to some of the more recent history that often gets over-looked in favor of the ancient.In the end, you may not like Pascalli himself, but you will come to understand him and his motivations. And as unlikeable as he can be, you may even feel sorry for him in the end.A well told story, and a quick read that I would recommend to almost anyone.
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