Caribou Island – David Vann

Caribou Island

Five words from the blurb: Alaska, marriage, unravelling, storms, life

Legend of a Suicide was one of my favourite reads in 2009 and so I was excited about trying David Vann’s latest book. Unfortunately, despite being equally well written, it didn’t have the same impact on me.

Caribou Island is set on a remote Alaskan island and follows one family as they battle with relationship problems and illness.

Gary looked out of the window at the lake through the trees, at the salmon, knew he should feel lucky, but felt nothing except a mild, background terror of how he’d get through the day, how he’d fill the hours. He’d felt this all his adult life, especially in the evenings, especially when he was single. After the sun went down, the stretch of time until when he could sleep seemed an impossible expanse, something looming, a void that couldn’t be crossed.

The book is dark and atmospheric throughout, with fantastic descriptions of the harsh Alaskan landscape.

The pace was much faster than Legend of a Suicide and I flew through it in a couple of sittings.

The problem was that the plot was depressing. Not in the wonderfully original, powerful way of his first book, but in the mundane, soul-sapping way that things happen in real life. There were a few fantastic scenes sprinkled through the novel, but most of it just left me feeling sad. I longed for something to lift the mood, or to shock me, but unfortunately the book continued on its melancholy journey.

Recommended to those who enjoy books that investigate the dynamics of family relationships, but it should be avoided by anyone looking for a happy read.


The thoughts of other bloggers:

David Vann writes with honesty and sharp-edged realism that is hard to ignore. Caribousmon

It’s a bleak book, yes, but also a beautiful one. Follow the Thread

This isn’t a novel to pick up if you are looking for a happy ending; instead, if you are looking for the beauty in despair and destruction, this is a great book to pick up. S. Krishna’s Books




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  1. Verity says:

    Oh yes, I tho8ught this was really gripping, and actually much better than Legend!

    1. Jackie says:

      Verity, It is interesting to know you prefered this to Legend. I suppose that they are very similar books, but Legend shocks whilst Caribou Island is more realstic. I just found this one depressing and it didn’t teach me to look at the world in a new way so I didn’t get anything from it. Glad you liked it though.

  2. The audio version was even more depress, although the reader was terrific. I liked this one though.

    1. Jackie says:

      Diane, I can imagine the audio being sadder. I’m glad I stuck to the print!

  3. Wendy says:

    I have not read Legend – but I would like to. I agree, this is a very dark, very sad book…but what resonated with me was the quality of the writing. I think the comparisons to McCarthy are good ones. Thanks for the link love :)

    1. Jackie says:

      Wendy, Yes, I agree the writing quality is fanstastic and I can see some similarities to McCarthy. I just need some benefit from reading a sad book and this book didn’t provide me with anything but misery. :-(

  4. Stephanie says:

    Depressing books don’t usually bother me but they usually have some glimmer of hope through all the despair, so this one seems a little darker than most.

  5. Steph says:

    I thought Legend of a Suicide was a solid read, but it didn’t blow me away that it seemed to do so for many others. That said, I’m still curious about Caribou Island, though not in a way that I feel like I have to read it anytime soon.

    1. Jackie says:

      Steph, If Legend didn’t blow you away then I don’t think this will do much for you. The two books are very similar – think of this as a simpler, faster paced version without the shock factor.

  6. I enjoyed Caribou Island a lot but I agree it was depressing. My review is here:

    I liked it more than you but then I LOVE stories about Alaska and I loved the sense of place, and how nature itself was part of the story.

    1. Jackie says:

      Judith, I agree this had a fantastic sense of place, but Alaska isn’t a stand out location for me book-wise (probably because of its emptiness) I prefer more vibrant settings like India + Japan.

  7. Graham says:

    I really enjoyed Legend of a Suicide, so it’s a shame you weren’t as gripped by this one. I’ll no doubt get around to it before too long.

    1. Jackie says:

      Graham, I hope that you enjoy it more than I did – I’ll be keeping an eye out for your review.

  8. JoV says:

    Oh dear it sounds like a hard going book. I think I can deal with depressing read and I look forward to reading another one by David Vann after the Legend of Suicide. I can deal with tragic ending. ;)

    1. Jackie says:

      JoV, You’re a braver woman than me! Enjoy ;-)

  9. Amy says:

    I have this one on my list of books to read soon but I may switch to Legend now. I’m going to look it up and read your review. I know Caribou is very dark and depressing but mundane and soul-sapping may be more than I need right now! I should just read them both!

    1. Jackie says:

      Amy, I think switching to Legend is a good idea – it is such a powerful book. I hope you like it as much as I did.

  10. Jenners says:

    That is what I’ve heard about this … that it is horribly depressing in a very realistic way. Yet, I’m still drawn to it. And now you have me interested in his previous book too.


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