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Synopsis

Elspeth Baillie, a young Scottish actress, is chosen by enigmatic impresario Lord Coak for an acting career on the Island of Barbados. At first fêted by the colonial gentry, her life in the Caribbean does not go according to plan. Elspeth is obliged to take on a temporary and ambiguous role in the closed world of Coak’s remote sugar plantation. Dolan’s plot is full of unexpected twists as Elspeth becomes ever more the prisoner of a venture whose founding principle is white supremacy. Captain Shaw, the factor, sets about building a New Caledonia whose reality for Elspeth and her new compatriots is a sense of timelessness and loss. Nature, ideology and the drive to maximise profit conspire to endanger the invented community. Elspeth is left trying to make sense of her own life and youthful ambitions among a shipwrecked people dreaming of home. Linguistically rich and narratively hypnotic, Dolan’s novel asks what makes a nation. Bloodlines? Language? History? Or some ideal for the future? Elspeth’s hopes for a new world, full of drama and passion, collide with the all too real drama and elusive loves of colonial life.

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