A deliciously unsettling novella
As a child, Creena Arbre wanted to save the planet. At twenty-two, now an environmental science student, she takes a job on a tropical island to study trees and maybe get proof that tree spirits exist. Instead of joining the other scientists, she finds herself stranded on a desert island, with no one knowing where she is. Two years later, hairdresser Gelly Grint comes to the rescue.
Names always have meaning in Grey’s books. The islands Creena travels to are called Isles of Voix, i.e. voice in French. Creena hears voices, Gelly talks all the time (more on that below). Arbre means tree, fitting for a tree whisperer. And of course, the island she gets stranded on is Solo.
Eule Grey’s stories are like no others I’ve read. They’re unexpected and weird, like beautifully-written dystopian dreams. They have a whimsical quality that goes beyond the best worldbuilding. They’re, in a word, different. And I love them. They mess with my head in a way that’s at once uncomfortable and fun and fascinating. They feel like YA or NA, which makes them appear innocuous, but they’ll linger on my mind like unshakable ghosts.
I liked many many things in this novella but I think my favourite is the way it plays with senses and synesthesia. Creena sees people and life in colours and tastes, she hears the spirit of trees. Gelly can’t stop talking but gets overwhelmed by others’ sharing their stories. What her father deemed a “noisy stream of consciousness” helps her keep others’ confessions at bay: “I eat up emotions behind words, sometimes, like a sea sponge. It drains me. I wish I could switch off.” Sensory overload, however, isn’t always a bad thing, as they both find with each other.
These seventy-something pages pack a punch if you’re willing to take a step to the side. 4.5⭐️