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Pascali's Island Paperback – November 17, 1997


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (November 17, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393317218
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393317213
  • Product Dimensions: 0.6 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #389,339 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

“Darkly ironic. . . . Offers an almost Conradian richness.” (The New Yorker)

“A compelling portrait of a schemer whose shabby amorality scarcely ensures his survival in a world where treachery is the rule.” (Boston Sunday Globe)

About the Author

Barry Unsworth (1930-2012), who won the Booker Prize for Sacred Hunger, was a Booker Prize finalist for Morality Play and was long-listed for the Man Booker Prize for The Ruby in Her Navel.

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Customer Reviews

3.7 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

21 of 26 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 6, 1999
Format: Paperback
It's not the mastery of language. Nor is it the precision with which Unsworth draws his characters. It is, rather, the skill, always evident in his work, with which he illuminates moral dilemnas that makes this book unforgettable. An intense foray into the mind and heart of am informer, this novel will touch all those who have ever wanted to tell their own story but felt unworthy. A very disturbing and moving work, like all of his other novels that I have read.
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16 of 20 people found the following review helpful By SCOTT X. NELSON on June 10, 1998
Format: Paperback
I don't know anything about the author, Barry Unsworth, but this is a masterful work of fiction. It reads like a classic. It's engaging and well thought through. reminded me of Hemingway by way of Camus.
I read this after vacationing in the Greek isles, and the book definitely opened my eyes to some of the more recent history that often gets over-looked in favor of the ancient.
In the end, you may not like Pascalli himself, but you will come to understand him and his motivations. And as unlikeable as he can be, you may even feel sorry for him in the end.
A well told story, and a quick read that I would recommend to almost anyone.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Sharon on May 22, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The novel is set on a small Greek island in 1908. The Ottoman Empire is about to fall, but in this remote outpost a government informer pens his last report to the Sultan. Basil Pascali, an outsider of mixed-race, has loyally reported on the activities of the people of his community for twenty years, each month receiving a tiny stipend, but never a single response. As a writer he begins to take liberties with his reports, taking enormous pride in his ability to depict events with great clarity and flair.

When Englishman Anthony Bowles arrives on the island, he and Pascali become rivals for the affection of Lydia, a Viennese artist who has been living there for some time. Pascali suspects that Bowles may not be honest about his claim to be an archeologist (it takes a practiced confidence-trickster to recognise another of his kind, after all), so what is he doing there?

The atmospheric short novel is superbly plotted, there isn't a scene out of place. Nothing is as it seems and Pascali's Island keeps you guessing right up to the tragic ending as the characters become enmeshed in layers betrayal and deceit.

Literary fiction honestly doesn't come much better than this and I am actually surprised that the novel didn't win more recognition at the time.

It was shortlisted for the Booker in 1980, but was eclipsed by William Golding's win for Darkness Visible and Anthony Burgess' masterpiece Earthly Powers. I've read several other novels by Unsworth which I've greatly enjoyed and admired (Morality Play, Rum and Sugar, Losing Nelson, and Sacred Hunger, which finally did won Unsworth the Booker) but I like this by far the best. (I still have his latest novel A Ruby in her Navel to be read.)

Pascali's Island reminded me of several other novels I've greatly enjoyed : E.M. Forster's Passage to India, L.P. Hartley's The Go-Between, and the episode about the smugglers in Lermentov's A Hero of our Time ... all of them written much earlier.
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20 of 28 people found the following review helpful By "mgerald" on February 9, 2000
Format: Paperback
This novel is a clever time machine. It warps the reader back to 1908, a sun-drenched island, characters abuzz with intrigue, complex psychologies, morphing intentions behind a mirage of simple diction. The far-off sultan is the ever-present "Excellency," steadily sinking into the quicksand upholstery of his throne. The icky Izzet, both product and perpetrator of Ottoman despotism, gives one a clearer idea of just why the Balkans are such a mess today. Mahmoud Pasha, his bellicose boss, reminds one of a stuffed and cogitating mushroom. There is the suave and sordid Herr Gesing, whose tightly wound cravats and sharply cut suits reek not of lavender but of gunpowder and guts. The lithe Lydia traipses around her studio, draws mysterious money, seemingly from cyberspace, frolics on beaches, and gets herself into the briniest of pickles. Anthony Bowles is friendly but fey. One does not know whether to sympathize with his obsessions or to flee them as one would wildly metastasizing microbes. And the weird Pascali? On the paperback cover, he is pictured in suit coat and bowler, bobbing like a fishing lure in a murky sea, the sky spread out over him as a Levantine tent. This seems like a good place for him, since he spends the entire novel observing what is visible, most of him hidden in a kind of mushy and underwater world. The reader will not soon figure him out, and this is part of the galling genius of Unsworth's achievement. To inhabit his mind from first chapter to last, and still never grasp who he is? Pascali is like a remote and glittering planet: observable, fascinating, but always agreeably distant and aloof.
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