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From the author of the existential thriller ‘The Execution’ comes ‘Colony’, a novel set in French Guiana as the age of Empire draws to a close and anarchy beckons. The year is 1928. Sabir – petty criminal, drifter, war veteran – is on a prison ship bound for a notorious penal colony in the French tropics. Soon after his arrival in the bagne, as it's known, Sabir is shipped out to a work camp deep in the South American jungle but quickly comes to the realisation that his old life is dead, and return to France an impossibility. Yet, if he's to survive at all, he must escape the brutality of the bagne. Posing as a professional gardener, Sabir wins the confidence and protection of the camp's naïve, idealistic Commandant. With a group of like-minded convicts – including the secretive, enigmatic Edouard, a comrade from the trenches of WW1 – he soon launches his escape bid, across the seas in a stolen boat. Bad weather forces the men ashore, condemning them to a dismal, hallucinatory tramp through the jungle. As hunger and rivalry tear the group apart, Sabir understands he has scant chance of escaping into another life. In Part Two, Manne – deserter, itinerant exile – comes to the Colony in search of his deported friend, the same Edouard from Part One. With a false identity and cover story, Manne installs himself as a guest at the Commandant's house. There, he falls into an affair with his host's wife. Meanwhile, the Commandant is slowly unravelling, growing ever more suspicious of who Manne is and what he's doing in the Colony. Manne ends up trapped like everyone else in the bagne, and realises that he too must escape. The novel's two plot threads begin to merge – boundaries between dream and reality blur, bringing a surreal tinge to the dramatic climax. Both a page-turning adventure story, and a bold novel of ideas, Colony takes an historical background familiar to readers of Henri Charrière's ‘Papillon’, and twists it into a metaphysical journey. Brilliantly evoking an atmosphere of colonial decline in the tropics, the novel explores the shifting natures of identity, memory and reality.
about life in the penal colony. There are the labour camps where they make you work naked under the sun; the jungle parasites that bore through your feet and crawl up to your brain; the island where they intern leper convicts; the silent punishment blocks where the guards wear felt-soled shoes; the botched escapes that end in cannibalism. As the stories move through the prison ship, they mutate at such a rate that it becomes impossible to gauge their truth. In Sabir’s cage, there’s only one man
thatch. Rush matting for the inner walls, to let in the air. Beyond that, he has no particular idea. Then again, is the commandant going to know any better than him? Once he’s got the men working, he returns to the house – to think, to sit down, to smoke one of the commandant’s cigarettes. He should be looking for things to steal. And yet he feels emptied by the strain of last night. In a way, it’s been good having to organise the nursery; it’s occupied his mind. Masque’s murder now seems
pair!’ Bonifacio pushes his hand into his trousers, pulls out an oily wad of money. He thumbs off a few notes and hands them over to Sabir. ‘Get yourself a new pair. A new shirt as well.’ Sabir struggles up, takes the money. Apart from the state of his feet, Bonifacio seems better than he was last night. The food and sleep must have done him some good. ‘Second, my friend, you’re going to do some business for me. You’re going to hire yourself a canoe and go down to the nearest Boni village.
you give this friend of yours?’ ‘Two hundred.’ ‘Shouldn’t have cost that much. You’re one trusting guy. How do you know he hasn’t pocketed the dough? How do you know he’s not skipping out without you? Find out which creek tomorrow. Don’t mess it up this time.’ Once again, Bonifacio is snoring within minutes – the sound sleep of a man with no doubts. It’s this very cocksureness that makes it so difficult to contemplate murdering him. Sabir imagines himself raising the dagger over the prone
through the scrub, squinting to see better. There’s the familiar heaviness in the air, the clouds overhead pregnant with storm. The boat, which was about fifty metres out from the shore, now veers slowly back to the bank, and at one point it seems as if it’s heading directly at Sabir. As it moves nearer he can make out three people on board. A pilot and another man in the front section of the boat, and then a woman sitting by herself at the back, in the open air. Closer, closer … Sabir could