The Island of Four Rivers
Scribe, $30 pb, 280 pp
Aldous Huxley often prioritised the expression of themes and ideas over the development of character and plot in his fiction. Ape and Essence (1948), one of his less well-known novellas, was no exception, but it was also funny and thought-provoking. The Island of Four Rivers, by Christopher Morgan, has none of these redeeming features.
Both Morgan’s and Huxley’s main characters make their way to an exotic island to rescue it from degradation, only to fall in love with a native woman. Huxley’s character, Dr Poole, has a reason for undertaking his trip – botany, on a rescue mission to the United States after World War III – but Morgan’s Crabby Davis just sets off in his spare time to play the roles of hero, intellectual and romantic gardener, as the plot requires. We find out the premise for his journey toward the end of the book, 272 pages too late. Huxley’s novella is at least a surface-level dystopia; Morgan seems unsure whether he is telling an adventure story, an ethical thriller or a comical drama. The consistent tone of silly humour is unrelenting and undermines any serious theme that the book might have been dealing with – without ever being funny.