As anyone who has read T C Boyle before would know, the author makes nature an integral part of his story, almost like a character by itself, not merely as the drapery to the narrative. This book is no different. The story is about the Anacapa Island, which, we are totld is a rocky outcrop, one of California’s Channel Islands, one that is barely five miles long and half a mile wide, just a few miles to the north of Los Angeles in the sea.
We are told that in 1946, Beverly Boyd gets washed up ashore on this island after the boat she and her husband were on capsizes in the course of rather virulent storm. As is expected with Boyle, the writing is powerful, the descriptions as detailed as possible, and the narrative keeps beckoning the reader to follow through like the pull of an irresistable mystery.The island she finds herself on is populated with rats. Scarily so, “the shapes manifesting themselves all at once – furred, quick-footed, tails naked and indolently switching, a host of darkly shining eyes fastening on her”.
These rats came to the island off a shipwreck and are killing off the island wildlife. Many decades later, we have Alma Boyd Takesue, her granddaughter and a biologist with the National Parks Service, on a mission to restore the island’s ecosystem with a plan involving poison pellets, a plan which is severely opposed by environmentalists, specifically, Dave LaJoy, an animal-rights campaigner known for his boorishness. He focuses on Takesue and does his utmost to sabotage her programme, which, invariably leads to the drama in the narrative.
The debate is about the need for man to play god and control the evolution of the species, not about a straightforward dichotomy between animal rights and those who try to control animal population.
What makes this book a must read is Boyle’s writing. He writes with an easy lushness that makes reading the book like cutting through a multilayered dessert and finding something even more delicious under each layer. The sheer amount of research put into the book shows through, and the occasional flash of humour shines through in places and situations one least expects them. The pace is unforgiving and relentless, almost as if Boyle is rushing us off our feet in order to reach the climax. Yet, the writing is something to be savoured, to be read slowly and assimilated.
At the end of it all, we realise, that in the battle between humans and nature, neither is the winner. Bleak, yes. Relentlessly bleak. But nonetheless, a must read.
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