Filler content with porkers

This review originally appeared on the old TTA Press website back on 6 July 2008:-

Bantam Press hardback, 352pp, £12.99

Pig Island off the coast of Scotland comes to the world’s attention when a tourist films what appears to be a tailed demon frolicking on the beach. The religious group who own the island, the Psychogenic Healing Ministries, do not welcome the publicity and invite Joe Oakes, a journalist renowned for his scepticism, to the island to investigate, but unbeknown to them Oakes has a history with PHM founder Malachi Dove, a former evangelist who, fifteen years previously, he exposed as a charlatan. Dove has isolated himself from the group, living alone on the far side of the island and pursuing an agenda of his own, but before Joe can force a confrontation disaster strikes, leaving him and Dove’s daughter Angeline to make sense of what has occurred.

To get a sense of what the backdrop to this book is like, imagine The Wicker Man crossed with a slice of real world insanity along the lines of Heaven’s Gate, and that should bring you close, though it can’t convey the uniquely weird and minatory atmosphere of the locale itself. Pig Island, littered with chemical spill and animal carcasses, festooned with electric fences and CCTV cameras is a world away from Summerisle, and these elaborate stage props, taken in conjunction with the terrible things Dove does to his daughter, the intriguing expose of evangelical healing and exploration of the limits of human deformity, all help Hayder hedge her bets as to what is really going down by reinforcing the sense of a malignant supernatural agency at work. The intrusion into this setting of Joe Oakes, a driven man, a man who has made a career out of scepticism and whose personal mission is to screw up Dove’s life, not for one minute realising how much damage he is doing to himself and those he cares for, is the one ingredient necessary for a tragedy of some kind.

And yet, for all these promising elements, the book fails to deliver. For starters, I found that the narrative itself jumped around a bit too much. Mostly Joe is telling it all in the first person, but he intrudes flash forwards which stick out like the proverbial sore thumb. And then there’s a ridiculous subplot with Joe’s neglected wife Alex, who is unbalanced and records her thoughts in letters to her psychiatrist she will never send, a plot strand that adds absolutely nothing to the story, in fact makes it all rather cumbersome and unconvincing. Elsewhere we get narrative voices that don’t sound in the least convincing, such as the PHM girl who speaks in the very latest slang and throws herself at Joe, rather unbelievably. The final revelation, which I guessed long before it arrived, saw the book end on a note of mundanity, one which reduces it all to the level of yet another story about a man having the wool pulled over his eyes by a calculating femme fatale.

The feeling I have about Pig Island is that it was padded, with a good novella trapped inside the bloated body of an overwritten novel, and that maybe Hayder should have had the courage of her convictions and delivered a full fledged tale of supernatural terror instead of copping out with this unwieldy contrivance in which the rationalisations seem even less plausible than the hints of the outré.

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