Tag Archives: prison

On the Island by Ren Xiaowen


A mental patient who may or may not have killed her professor, with whom she may or may not have been having an affair, is shipped off to a strange island colony whose handful of inmates divide their time between long shifts of manual labor and sessions of vicious gossip about each other. Following instructions from the “ship’s captain,” the island’s shadowy master, a bored cadre conducts criticism sessions in which he encourages the inmates to confess to elaborate crimes.

There’s not much of a plot beyond a slow reveal of the island’s purpose, but the narrator’s desire to recover her lost memory and understand how she arrived on the island keep the book moving until the inmates’ fragile society collapses and the dead bodies start piling up.

This is the author’s first novel, written in 2002 but only published this year following a collection of short stories and a second novel, The Women (她们).