Blaze Island by Catherine Bush

I have been fully embracing this new cli-fi trend. For one thing, it gives me ideas as to what to do if the world goes down. After reading Blaze Island, I’m thinking a sparsely populated island somewhere up North sounds like a good idea.

Miranda’s father thought so, too. But his reasons for moving to an island off the coast of Newfoundland was more to do with running from his past life than hiding from the worst of climate disasters. But perhaps it was both.

Miranda’s father, Alan, was once a renowned climate scientist living in New England. After climate deniers sabotaged years of hard work and the unfortunate death of his wife, Alan took his young daughter Miranda to Blaze Island to start their lives over.

They clanked off the ferry into fog so thick it was as if the world had disappeared or they themselves had vanished off the face of the Earth. Somewhere in Miranda’s depths stirred a kernel of curiosity, beneath the still tight clutch of bewilderment and fear.

Alan becomes a bit of a recluse, spending a lot of time in his cabin in the woods, while his daughter roams the shores and fields with her friend Caleb until the island starts to feel like home.

At the plunk of berries into the plastic tub, stiff west wind on her face, a rush of happiness seized Miranda, for the first time in a long time, guilt, then again a surge of undeniable happiness. She hoped her mother could forgive her for it.

The reader can’t help but enjoy reading about their life on the island – so much of it being an idyllic place for a quiet and satisfying life. But at the same time, from the first chapter in which a hurricane brings a stranger (Frank) right to their house, we are asking ourselves questions: Who is this stranger? Who are all the young scientists coming to visit Miranda’s father? What is he up to in his cabin? Why–after all their years of friendship–are Miranda and Caleb estranged? And do any of these things have to do with each other?

The hurricane brings questions and uncertainties for Miranda, as well. As she reflects on her memories of the past, she wonders about Frank, about life on and off the island, about what is going on in her father’s cabin, and whether her future is what she had imagined it would be. And how bad is it out there, beyond the island Miranda and Alan have not ventured off since arriving ten years ago?

It was as is she’s been living in a bubble. It was a beautiful bubble, yes, a bubble that she and her father had created. Frank was outside it, punching at its membrane with his words.

Always there had been secrets in this house, and she had surrendered to her father’s desire for them, the things they kept hidden about their past, other things he’d attempted to hide from her and she’d allowed herself to ignore, but a new impatience surged as if she were struggling to climb over the fence that encircled her.

This close yet secretive relationship between Miranda and her father brings an interesting layer to the story. As does Caleb’s character, who has his own secrets to contend with – his infatuation with Miranda being one of them.

Catherine Bush has done her homework for this book. Not only did she attend the 2014 Climate Engineering Conference in Berlin, but her sister is a climate scientist (Elizabeth Bush) who offered consultations during the writing of the book and whose conversations with the author helped to inspire the story.

Catherine Bush is also in tune with place, offering us some local descriptions and terminology…

Pack ice is what the sea brings in, Caleb told her. Slob ice lies like a slushy skin over the water and moves with the waves. Ballycatters, those are the big pans of ice rafted at shore, their blue-green edges sharp as knives, and the slippery mounds of ice that salt spray sends to coat the shore rocks.

… the pack ice no longer came to shore some years. When it did, the ice was wondrous, mesmerizing, appearing so suddenly, and, when the wind shifted, vanishing as quickly, pulled back to the horizon. Even out at sea, the strong, white field of ice was a riveting presence. The sea ice spoke in many voices, it groaned and crackled and softly sifted, and when it filled the cove, the whole world went silent.

Further Reading:

Marcie@buriedinprint has written a wonderful post about a variety of climate books, including Blaze Island: “Reading about the climate crisis is one way to narrow the gap that Daisy Hildyard identifies—the gap between what we say that we believe and what we do about it.”

The Miramichi Reader: “Catherine Bush’s distinctive prose makes the reading enjoyable. One can experience the isolation, the ways of the locals, the revelation of the problems with the climate. She points out a dire situation that climate change could bring and offers us food for thought towards a better future. Her attention to detail and research is evident throughout the novel.

Nuvo: “Most importantly, Blaze Island asks the reader to consider the hows and whys of decisions made in crisis. Through the actions of the characters, Bush communicates the triumphs and shortcomings of society’s approach to the most pressing issues. “I really believe that we live in a moment right now—and I think that the pandemic has only made that more acute—where we can’t really look at the past as a model for what lies ahead for the future. It’s only going to bring us more loss.”

19 thoughts on “Blaze Island by Catherine Bush

  1. Lisa Hill says:

    I like the sound of this one…
    Have you come across Wolfe Island by Lucy Treloar? That’s about a fiercely independent older woman who is one of the last on an island that is gradually sinking underwater. It’s very, very good.

  2. A Life in Books says:

    That’s such a striking jacket! Am I right in thinking this is a reimagining of The Tempest or is that jumping to a conclusion prompted by the name Miranda and the setting of an island?

    • Naomi says:

      You’re right! I didn’t get into all that, because it’s good on its own, but some of the reviews I’ve read talk about it quite a bit.

  3. Karissa says:

    Does this have echoes of The Tempest? The names and the young man appearing on the island make me think so. It sounds fascinating and I like that the author has done her research and based it in fact.

    • Naomi says:

      Yes, it does! You are the second commenter to notice. Because I’ve never read The Tempest (although I’ve read novels inspired by The Tempest and generally know how the story goes), I decided to just talk about the story on its own. I think that I read somewhere that using The Tempest as inspiration made the writing of it more fun for the author. 🙂

  4. wadholloway says:

    I hadn’t thought of reading CliFi for tips about how to survive – which in any case will be more of a problem for my grandchildren than for me. I think some of the political dystopias are more likely to come true in the short term, though it would be nice to think we’ve passed peak neo-liberal/fascism.

    • Naomi says:

      Even before cli-fi… I’ve been reading books for tips on survival my whole life. Haha! I love books about people living in the wilderness or off-grid or isolated from civilization in some way. I’ve always wondered what this says about me… Am I longing to be alone all the time? Or am I gathering information on how to do it if the need ever arises? Lol

  5. annelogan17 says:

    Cli-fi! I love this new term. As you know I’ve been getting into this genre quite a bit myself, so I’m always excited to learn of more titles to explore. Also-the picture of that icy coast at the end of your post is gorgeous! Where is it from?

  6. buriedinprint says:

    Thanks kindly, Naomi, for linking to my roundup of climate crisis fiction. I might yet have more to say about this one specifically, but there are also lots of other good reads on the topic. I know you’re also planning to eventually read The New Wilderness by Diane Cook and I think it’s really interesting to compare those two (but, no rush…I’m sure you won’t quickly forget this one)! yes, that’s a gorgeous photo: such stark beauty.

    • Naomi says:

      Now that you mention it… no, the story from Blaze Island is blazoned (hehe) into my head right now. I don’t think I’ll quickly forget it!

      • buriedinprint says:

        I meant to say that this made me very curious: what about the story made it stick so hard. It wasn’t one that really lodged for me…which maybe is another way of saying that you might want to read The New Wilderness in daylight cuz I would really like to forget parts of that one. Heheh

      • Naomi says:

        The parts that stick are all the in-between-the-plot parts – Miranda and Alan’s daily routine, their garden, their walks along the coast, the wind, the isolated community, Caleb’s house (the one he’s fixing up), the berry-picking, the sheep.

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