‘Three men vow to leave the world behind them and start anew . . .‘
[ About the Book ]
In seventh-century Ireland, a scholar and priest called Artt has a dream telling him to leave the sinful world behind. Taking two monks – young Trian and old Cormac – he travels down the river Shannon in search of an isolated spot on which to found a monastery. Drifting out into the Atlantic, the three men find an impossibly steep, bare island inhabited by tens of thousands of birds, and claim it for God. Their extraordinary landing spot is now known as Skellig Michael. But in such a place, far from all other humanity, what will survival mean?
[ My Review ]
Haven by Emma Donoghue will be released August 18th with Picador and is described as ‘haunting, moving and vividly told…displays Emma Donoghue’s trademark world-building and psychological intensity.’ Set primarily on the remote island known as Skellig Michael off the west coast of Ireland, Haven is a very intense experience from start to finish.
For those of you not familiar with Skellig Michael by name you might recognise it from two of the more recent Star Wars movies, The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, which were, in part, filmed there. Named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996, it was once a place of refuge with the remains of monastic settlements evident on the island. Emma Donoghue takes the reader back to 7th C Ireland, a time when Christianity was getting a foothold in a country that was very much a rural environment and where clans were in dispute over land and cattle.
Cluain Mhic Nóis (Clonmacnoise) in Co’ Offaly is where Haven begins, a monastery founded in the 6th C. Over thirty monks and their Abbot live a relatively secluded life here, toiling the land, praying and serving God. Two weeks previously a stranger had arrived in their midst, a man who went by the name of Artt. Now, the first fast-day after Easter and one of the monks, Trian is observing Artt, this man who is ‘as fresh as if he’s just returned from the land of youth. Brown-haired, grey-eyed, the man as brawny as some hero who can toss with one hand a boulder twice the size of his head, Artt’s single blemish – the blackened stump of the little finger on his massive right hand – is rumoured to be a mark of God’s favour: proof that he’s done the impossible by surviving the plague.’
Artt is different than anyone Trian has ever encountered and he is quite in awe of this man who serves the Lord in a more regimental fashion than Trian has witnessed to date in Clonmacnoise. Later that evening Artt has a restless sleep and has a vision of ‘an island in the sea’ that he believes is a message from God with very clear instructions ‘to withdraw from the world. To set out on pilgrimage with two companions, find this island, and found a monastic retreat.‘
With the Abbot’s eventual blessing he takes two monks with him, the young monk Trian and an older monk, Cormac. They embark on a journey traversing the River Shannon and out its mouth into the open sea in search of this barren island where refuge will be theirs. Their trip is fraught but with a strong belief that God will guide them, they eventually arrive at the bleak and stone face of Skellig Michael.
Haven is a fictitious yet very powerful account of the starkness of life on the island for these three monks. With little supplies, and at all times fighting the elements, days become quite blurred and fraught with danger. As one would expect tempers fray but all try to live according to the laws of God, albeit a very extreme life.
Living in this kind of isolation would be alien to me. I have seen Skellig Michael from the Kerry coast line and it’s a sobering thought to imagine life there in any century. Haven is very much a survival story with a strong cast of characters, all different, all with their own individual strengths and weaknesses. The isolation and desolation of Skellig Michael would challenge the best of us and in Haven this desolate feeling creates a constant shadow of gloom that permeates throughout.
Haven is an excellently depicted portrayal of the conflict that will inevitably arise in a claustrophobic environment. Confinement, hostility, passion and power-play all feature in this tense novel as the three monks battle the daily hardships they encounter. Haven is certainly not a book that will have universal appeal due to its subject matter but it is a unique and powerful read. As Artt’s views become more and more severe, Trian and Cormac question his stance, leading them to question their own decision to come to this remote and desolate spot. Haven is a novel with religion at its core, a powerful exploration of human nature and a cautionary tale highlighting the dangers of extreme and radical beliefs.
[ Bio ]
Born in Dublin in 1969, and now living in Canada, Emma Donoghue writes fiction (novels and short stories, contemporary and historical, most recently The Pull of the Stars), as well as drama for screen and stage. Room, was a New York Times Best Book of 2010 and a finalist for the Man Booker, Commonwealth, and Orange Prizes, selling between two and three million copies in forty languages. Donoghue was nominated for an Academy Award for her 2015 adaptation starring Brie Larson. She co-wrote the screenplay for the film of her 2016 novel The Wonder, starring Florence Pugh, coming from Netflix