My enormous thanks to Sophie Morgan at Troubador Publishing for a copy of Off-Island by Marlene Hauser in return for an honest review.
Off-Island is available for purchase here.
Krista Bourne has always been surrounded by the strength, love and wealth of her family and their homes in New York City and Martha’s Vineyard. She has never had to think for herself. Living with boyfriend Michael and her elderly grandfather, she can also summon up the comforting ghosts of her beloved father and grandmother. In vivid dreams she flies with her pilot father, and when awake remembers idyllic childhood holidays spent with her bohemian grandmother.
When Krista impulsively walks out on her career as a professional dancer, it is the beginning of a new chapter in her life. She feels unsettled and excited by the sense of imminent change around her.
This feeling turns to panic, then fear when she realises that she is pregnant and is uncertain whether or not she wants to keep the baby, bringing her and Michael to a crossroads in their relationship. Adamant that she alone must deal with the situation, Krista rejects all offers of support from him, isolating her at a time when she most needs help.
Krista’s journey and emotional upheaval take her back to her summer home on Martha’s Vineyard, where she is surprised to find out that she does not know her family history quite as well as she imagined.
My Review of Off-Island
When Krista walks out of her dance class, this will be the beginning of a huge turning point in her life.
My goodness. Off-Island may be more novella than novel in length but it packs the most enormous punch. The quality of Marlene Hauser’s writing is so sophisticated and visual that the whole time I was reading I felt resonances with Andre Gide’s Isabelle. There’s an intensity of colour and an exploration of truth and identity that I thought was similar to this Gide’s classic. The poetic nature of some passages, especially those relating to Krista’s thoughts and dreams, was very affecting. I thought the descriptions of setting were utterly beautiful.
I confess I couldn’t stand Krista, but equally I couldn’t stop reading her story. I had to know how far her past had shaped her present and how she might deal with her future. Marlene Hauser has depicted such an intimate and compelling portrait of guilt, grief and self-knowledge that I read Off-Island in one sitting. I went from despising Krista to feeling compassion and empathy as a result of the skilful writing. The claustrophobic intensity of so few characters affords such depth of insight into Krista’s mind and character that it is impossible not to become involved as a reader.
Never having been pregnant, the events of Off-Island are totally unfamiliar to me and yet I felt the way in which they are presented depicted such universal themes that I could understand and appreciate them all. Marlene Hauser’s exploration of how we make choices and how we can be self-deceptive makes Off-Island almost compulsory reading for anyone in Krista’s, and indeed Michael’s, situation. I felt I learnt so much about myself, let alone the characters, from this small volume.
Off-Island is not an easy read. It may well take some readers on a journey they would rather not take, and I’m not sure it’s a book I can say I enjoyed because of the subject matter. At times I found it an uncomfortable read, but I also found it fascinating, thought-provoking, compelling and beautifully written. I think Off-Island by Marlene Hauser is a very important book.
About Marlene Hauser
Marlene Hauser is a professional writer based in Oxford, UK, where she lives with her husband and teenage son. She served as editor of the Writer’s New York City Source Book and originated the television film Under the Influence, going on to serve as Associate Producer and Technical Consultant. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Columbia University and has received numerous awards, including a residency at the Millay Arts Colony in Upstate New York.