Burnt Island

By Alice Thompson


A literary novelist, Max Long, who wins a fellowship to Burnt island to write his next novel. He ends up staying with the very successful novelist James Fairfax whose wife had gone missing under mysterious circumstances.

Year of Publication


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 The Scotsman 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 The Lady 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 The Guardian 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 Black Static Magazine Fractured and lucid as a dream. Creepy and brilliant. -- Ian Rankin

Author Biography

Alice Thompson was born and brought up in Edinburgh. She was the former keyboard player with post-punk eighties band, The Woodentops and joint winner with Graham Swift of The James Tait Black Memorial Prize for Fiction for her first novel, Justine. Her second novel, Pandora's Box, was shortlisted for The Stakis Prize for Scottish Writer of the Year. Her other novels are Pharos, The Falconer and most recently Burnt Island. Alice is a past winner of a Creative Scotland Award. She is now lecturer in Creative Writing at Edinburgh University.