Andrea Lee’s Red Island House makes for an interesting beach read. Told over several decades, Shay’s many adventures and experiences on the fictional island of Naratrany, Madagascar are recounted in a series of short stories almost like journal entries.
So, I didn’t love this book, but I didn’t hate it either. The structure of the book made it feel like I was continually ready a new story. Though each of the sections could probably be a stand alone short, they each built upon the overall plot of the story, Shay’s life both on and off the island.
Shay seemed to spend a lot of time feeling guilty about her life and presence on the island. Yet she returned twice a year, every year for the better part of 20 years. She always felt it was wrong for her to enjoy the extravagant comforts of her huge beach house, waited on hand and foot by her maids and servants. On the inside, she couldn’t seem to reconcile their shared blackness with their drastically different social statuses. But, if she really felt that guilty, why did she keep going back?
Senna seemed like the typical rich, cis white male. A douche who I wouldn’t want to spend more than five minutes alone with. Shay is more of an enigma. She’s an educated black woman with a successful career. I honestly couldn’t understand why she put up with him.
I think my favorite section was the first one titled The Packet War. The mystery, the magic, the all knowing Bertine, this section set a high bar for the rest of the book. Unfortunately the book as a whole fails to meet the high standard set by the fist section, but a few individual sections came close. The Rivals, Sister Shadow, and Elephants’ Graveyard are also on my list of fav sections.
Lee did an excellent job of crafting unique, interesting characters. They were all so vivid and I didn’t have a problem imagining them in real life. The settings were equally vivid. Reading her lush descriptions made me feel like I was there on the island, baking under the sun and enjoying the beautiful surroundings.
I give this book 4 stars. It was beautifully written and very engaging, though not very coherent. I think anyone who enjoys short stories would enjoy reading this book.
I received a free copy of this book via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.