#BookReview ‘Satin Island’ by Tom McCarthy. What do you read for?

Satin Island by Tom McCarthy
Satin Island by Tom McCarthy

Title:   Satin Island
Author:   Tom McCarthy
ISBN:  0307593959

ISBN13:  978-0307593955
Published:  12th March 2015
Pages:  210
Genre:  Literary Fiction

Body of review:

Thanks to Net Galley and to Jonathan Cape for providing me a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

Honestly? I enjoyed the book. On the other hand, would I recommend it? Well, it depends.

The book is narrated in the first person by U., an anthropologist working for a global corporation, which at the beginning of the book has secured a project that will change everything. We never quite know what this project is, and it seems nobody else knows either. U.’s contribution to the project is celebrated, although he has no idea what that contribution might have been. His job also consists of creating a report. A report about everything. He’s at liberty to choose how to do it. But how would you go about it?

U. chats constantly about things that might appear unconnected, but his job —in so far as he knows what it is— seems to be to find connections. He talks about Lévi-Strauss and his thoughts about anthropology and tribes, he collects random data (about oil-spills, parachuting accidents, airports and places…), he goes to conferences and gives lectures he seems totally unprepared for, but his search for meaning is thwarted, and it’s difficult to know if it’s the world’s fault or his own. Perhaps, as he mentions, Lévi-Strauss was right, and eventually it all becomes reduced to either new tribes that get absorbed into the everyday and stop being weird, or tribes that are so weird they are completely meaningless and cannot be processed using our current methodology.

The book reminded me of many things, although I didn’t consciously try to find similarities or connections. Perhaps it’s a side effect of reading it. It did remind me of reading literary theory, in particular the French Theorists (Roland Barthes, Jacques Derrida), and how much I liked them (although I was in a minority position in the American Literature class, I must admit). There are moments when the absurdity of everything made me think of works like Terry Gillian’s Brazil or some of Kafka’s or Orwell’s books (minus the pathos.) There were moments breathtakingly beautiful and poetic, usually found in something mundane. (Wonderful examples are the descriptions of the videos one of his colleagues’ shoots and later watches on a loop. But other things too: traffic, people skateboarding, dreams, even the Ferry to Staten Island…). And even moments where it seemed as if he’d found an explanation, a brilliant who-done-it that later comes to nothing, much as happens with his thoughts of rebelling and disturbing the set order. Flashes of genius in a pan.

Recently I read a very long book, stylistically interesting, trying to be about everything and for me too full of itself and failing. This is a book that possibly is about everything. Or about nothing (the difference might be only one of degree), and thankfully doesn’t take itself too seriously.

My opinion. Yes, I really loved this book. With regards to recommending it… Well, it has no plot, not much on the character side of things, it’s clever, it’s beautifully written, and it might make you think, although probably not reach many (if any) conclusions. So there you are. If with all that you want to read it, I hope you enjoy it. And if not, that’s all right too.

By the way, the book is nominated for the Man Booker Prize.

I checked over my notes and it seems I’ve highlighted a variety of things, but not sure any of them are very exemplary.

‘Me? Call me U.’ (wink to Melville, whom I love.)

In describing how his boss, Peyman, talks about the company:

‘If I had, he’d say, to sum up, in a word, what we (the Company, that is) essentially do, I’d choose not consultancy or design or urban planning, but fiction.’

‘Key to immortality: text messaging.’ At this point in the story, a friend of his had died, and he explains that he’d received a text message from his friend’s phone, sent by his estranged wife, to let him know he’d died. His friend had commented how one of the things that bothered him about dying (he was quite ill with cancer and knew his end was near) was that he wouldn’t be able to tell anybody about it. He felt mortified by the fact that when the most important thing that could ever happen to him, finally happened, he wouldn’t be able to tell anybody. U reflects that if one has a system to automatically send messages on one’s name, forever, (Tweets, blog posts, SMS, social media updates) that would be the equivalent of immortality…


Realistic Characterization: 3/5
Made Me Think: 5/5
Overall enjoyment: 5/5
Readability: 4/5
Recommended: 4/4
Overall Rating: 4.5/5

Satin Island in paper
Satin Island in paper

Buy it at:  
Format & Pricing:
Paperback:  $11.25 

Kindle: $12.15 

Hardback: $13.20 

Audio: $22.35 

Thanks for reading! Remember to like, share, comment and CLICK!

Olga Núñez Miret





Author: olganm

I am a language teacher, writer, bookworm, and collaborator at Sants 3 Ràdio (a local radio station in Barcelona, where I returned in 2018), who lived in the UK for 25 years and worked for many years as a forensic psychiatrist there. I also have a Ph.D. in American Literature and an MSc in Criminology. I started publishing my stories, in English and Spanish, in 2012 and now have over twenty books available in a variety of genres, a blog (in English and Spanish), and translate books for other authors (English-Spanish and vice versa). In 2020 obtained the CELTA certificate as a language teacher, and offer Spanish and English classes. Writers and readers both in English and Spanish are my friends, colleagues, and allies, and after living in the UK for over twenty-five years, have returned home, to Barcelona, Spain, searching for inspiration for my stories. I also love owls and try to keep fit following fitness YouTube videos. Do feel free to connect with me. Here are: My website/blog: http://OlgaNM.wordpress.com

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: