For disillusioned author Max Long, the offer of a writing-fellowship on the mysterious-sounding ‘Burnt Island’ is a godsend. Max is determined that, inspired by his tenure on this windswept outpost, he will produce every writer’s dream — the bestseller. And this time, he plans to subvert his usual genre and write a horror story.
But upon arrival, Max’s fantasies of hermetic island life are overturned when he encounters a potential rival living in close proximity – the famously reclusive James Fairfax, author of the internationally-lauded novel, Lifeblood.
Fairfax’s critical and financial success with Lifeblood, coupled with his refusal to court the limelight, has long been the talk of the literary circles. However, as the lives of the two men become intertwined, Max cannot marry the myth of the publicity-shy Fairfax with the apparently urbane and confident reality. He begins to suspect that Fairfax is not the true author of his exceptional debut. Moreover, Max cannot escape the disturbing knowledge that Fairfax’s wife has disappeared.
Recently-divorced and struggling to keep a grip on his fragile mental state, the vulnerable Max finds himself sliding into Fairfax’s world. And he starts to witness alarming visions that take the form of the horror he is attempting to write. Who or what is the sinister, darting figure who appears between the trees of Fairfax’s garden at night? Who is the tiny, forlorn little girl who seems to need help? And what has happened to Fairfax’s missing wife?
With an unnerving plotline in which we encounter doppelgängers, ghostly forms and machines masquerading as humans, Burnt Island is a masterwork of subtle terror. At times evoking The Wicker Man in its growing sense of paranoia and undercurrent of eroticism, Thompson’s evocative, compellingly-written story takes a grip on the reader as inexorable as that of Burnt Island on Max Long. An ironic satire on literary ambition, Thompson’s sixth novel soon draws the reader into something much darker.
‘Angela Carter crossed with the Scottish diffidence of Muriel Spark.’ —Ali Smith — on Justine
‘A high-wire act of a novel. Try to resist it and you can’t.’ —Fay Weldon — on Pandora’s Box
‘Expertly combining compelling storytelling with a cleverly constructed, elegant and metaphor-ridden style.’ —Camilla Pia — on The Falconer
‘The Existential Detective is unsettling, unsettlingly erotic, and somehow sadly beautiful. Thompson is fast becoming one of the most original and formidable writers in the English language today.’ —Sunday Herald — on The Existential Detective
‘Haunting, strange, Kafkaesque, poetic mystery.’ —Ian Rankin — on The Existential Detective
‘A gothic music video of a novel that whirls with weirdness... madly energetic ... genuinely scary.’ —Stephen King — on Pharos
‘What makes a book happen? Where does literary inspiration come from? These are some of the underlying questions asked by Alice Thompson’s deliciously creepy tale that is almost an homage to surreal horror stories such as Angela Carter’s The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman and John Fowles’s The Magus.... Her prose style tackles these questions in spare and simple language, devoid of drama and, it would seem, ambiguity, and in that sense, she avoids echoing the richness of both Angela Carter and John Fowles, even as she appears to be paying her tribute to both of them. It’s a wise decision, as this prose style also matches better the sparse landscape of the island itself. This is a simple yet clever tale, gently satirising literary ambition as it explores the darker sources of inspiration, and told with all the supernatural horror of the best Hammer stories.’ —Lesley McDowell
‘Thompson’s gripping narrative invites the reader to solve the mystery of Burnt Island and the true purpose of Max Long’s fellowship. A dark, compelling novel with strong themes of paranoia and strange eroticism throughout.’ —Lizzie Greenhalgh
‘Burnt Island is steeped in self-awareness, as a book about the process and effect of writing might be. It seems connected by literary electricity to other tales of isolation: The Shining, Pincher Martin, The Sea, The Sea. It might resist "character development", but Max does learn that, however bad things can get for him, there is always someone who has had it worse: usually another writer.’ —John Self
‘At the end Thompson seems to be hinting that writing is a parasitic occupation, a form of vampirism even, writers taking the events of others’ lives and using them as raw material, and in the relationship between Fairfax and Long that is taken to an extreme. Exquisitely written, with a real feel for the wide open spaces and the indifference of nature, but at the same time showing how these things are mirrored in the human heart, this is a miniature gem of a book, one that tells us something of the gothic while remaining thoroughly modern in the telling, with a meta-fictional streak that places the practice of writing itself under the microscope.’ —Peter Tennant
‘Fractured and lucid as a dream. Creepy and brilliant.’ —Ian Rankin