Top Shows


Caribou Island: Book review

Reviewed by's Steph Zajkowski

Remote isolation seems to breed a different kind of character; but makes a rich setting for David Vann's first novel, Caribou Island.

Like Annie Proulx's The Shipping News, a sparse environment becomes the breeding ground for some dark hurt.

Vann, who was born in Alaska, takes us to a glacier-fed corner of his home state, where married couple Gary and Irene are struggling to hold onto a shared life.

They've been together for decades; Gary is one of those men who dreams big and never comes through; who starts projects but fails to plan.

His latest scheme is his most selfish yet.

He's building an ugly, ill-conceived cabin on Caribou Island, where he plans on living in remote splendour for the rest of his days.

Problem is, he hasn't really consulted long-suffering wife, Irene.

Lately, she's been getting debilitating headaches, which the doctors can't diagnose or cure.

Are the headaches actually an outward manifestation of inner grief, and the tragedy that haunts her from her past?

Across the water, daughter Rhoda fantasises about marriage to her dentist boyfriend Jim; but just like her Dad, his path seems to involve a different future altogether.

'All the lonely people' - Vann delivers a perfectly choreographed exploration of oneness and loneliness, in the illusion of togetherness.

With its quirky northern exposure setting, log cabins and bears, it's only as you push into the book, that you start to unearth its dark heart.

There's a growing sense of disquiet as the disillusionment of the American frontier dream becomes apparent and lives unravel, fragment and shatter in spectacular fashion.
This novel has drawn plenty of acclaim for David Vann and rightly so.

It will live on after you've read it and it's one of those stories you will revisit.

Do yourself a favour and read it, because Caribou Island is a modern classic.

Caribou Island, by David Vann
Publisher: Penguin
RRP: $30.00
Available: Now