The Colony

Audrey Magee. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $28 (384p) ISBN 978-0-374-60652-7

Irish journalist and novelist Magee (The Undertaking) returns with the lyrical and trenchant story of an English landscape painter who visits a small Irish island during the Troubles. It’s the summer of 1979, and an artist known only as Mr. Lloyd leaves London for a rented cottage on the island. Soon after, Jean-Pierre Masson, a French linguist, arrives to study Gaelic, a language he calls “ancient and beautiful” and wants to keep alive. From the beginning, the two clash, sniping at one another and arguing over whose work is more important. Meanwhile, the locals, wary of their guests’ colonial prejudices, have their own ideas of what’s worth cherishing. James Gillan, 15, wants nothing to do with a life of fishing and hopes to be an artist. Lloyd, struck by the boy’s natural talent, promises him a life of fame back in London. Complications ensue after Lloyd falls in love with James’s widowed mother, Mairéad. Throughout, Magee weaves in bulletin-like vignettes of sectarian violence, such as an IRA bombing in South Armagh, which stand in stark contrast to the guests’ fantasies of an untouched world. Even more enriching is Magee’s depiction of James, who critiques Lloyd’s mediocre efforts in internal monologues (“You’re not understanding the light at all... it buries underneath, diving between the waves as a bird might, lighting the water from below as well as above”). It’s a delicate balance, and one the author pulls off brilliantly. (May.)