Skein Island by Aliya Whitely – women, secrets and myth
If you’re looking for an elegantly written mythological thriller, Skein Island by Aliya Whitely is a puzzle box of stories within stories.
Ever since I read Donna Tartt’s The Secret History when it first came out, I’ve been searching for books like it. I know what I’m looking for, too. I’ll probably write up my list one day, and it won’t be like the others. But here’s what’s required…
The books have to be well-written, ideally by a woman. They have to be psychological thrillers. They’ll feature an enclosed hermetic society (school, prison, monastery – anything with a tightly sealed society will do). There simply must be a feeling that society is a ball of wool, sure to unravel when a single thread is pulled. The books I’m looking for need to feature secrets. Many secrets. All of them. There might be a death of some kind, and I’ll never say no to the faintest hint of the Mysterious Other, whether it’s the supernatural or simply a question mark hanging over events.
This, then, is a book that has all these things. And some intriguing tricks of its own.
Skein Island is a refuge for women, isolated by fierce waters from the coast of Scotland. To receive an invitation is a rare thing. Should one land at your door, you can stay for one week… but must pay for your keep with a story from your past; a Declaration for vast library of women’s stories kept hidden deep beneath the island’s skin.
What happens to your Declaration after you leave the island is none of your concern.
“From the monsters of Ancient Greece to the atrocities of World War II, from heroes to villains with their seers and sidekicks by their sides, Skein Island looks through the roles we play, and how they form and divide us,” says the blurb. “Powerful and disturbing, it is a story over which the characters will fight for control.
Until they realise the true enemy is the story itself.”
Once I’d read Skein Island, I could not forget it. It drew me into its characters, its handling of thought and landscape, its twisting conceits that spoke to me of roleplaying games and mythology and all the ways in which to love and mistrust the stories we tell ourselves and the people telling the stories.
If you’re looking for deep waters and shadows in the pages of a summer read, come to Skein Island. That there Aliya Whitely sure does know how to write up a storm.