cover image Haven


Emma Donoghue. Little, Brown, $28 (272p) ISBN 978-0-316-41393-0

Donoghue (The Pull of the Stars) returns with an intricate slow-burn about three monks who start a monastery on an isolated island in seventh-century Ireland. As it opens, priest Artt dreams about an island where he believes he’s to pilgrimage with two others to found a monastic retreat. He picks the old monk Cormac, a skilled builder and gardener, and the young monk Trian, a piper, and both men pledge their lives to him. They set off on a small boat in search of the haven, and on the fifth day they see two islands jutting from the water. They land on the bigger one, a steep cathedral of rock possessed by an army of birds. There, high on a plateau, Artt, the future prior, decides they will camp then build, soon putting Cormac to work on a great cross and Trian on copying the Bible. As the prior turns a deaf ear to the others’ concerns about dwindling supplies, tensions rise over his monastic demands and their narrowing chances of survival as summer dips into fall. The slow pacing tends to wear, but the narrative picks up toward the end with a surprising twist. Patient readers will be rewarded with a thoughtful tale of faith, isolation, and blind obedience. Agent: Kathleen Anderson, Anderson Literary. (Aug.)