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Dark, mournful, and beautiful, Sarah Tolmie's The Fourth Island is a moving and unforgettable story of life and death on the hidden Irish island of Inis Caillte. Huddled in the sea off the coast of Ireland is a fourth Aran Island, a secret island peopled by the lost, findable only in moments of despair. Whether drowned at sea, trampled by the counter-reformation, or exiled Dark, mournful, and beautiful, Sarah Tolmie's The Fourth Island is a moving and unforgettable story of life and death on the hidden Irish island of Inis Caillte. Huddled in the sea off the coast of Ireland is a fourth Aran Island, a secret island peopled by the lost, findable only in moments of despair. Whether drowned at sea, trampled by the counter-reformation, or exiled for clinging to the dead, no outsiders reach the island without giving in to dark emotion. Time and again, The Fourth Island weaves a hypnotic pattern with its prose, presaging doom before walking back through the sweet and sour moments of lives not yet lost. It beautifully melds the certainty of loss with the joys of living, drawing readers under like the tide.


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Dark, mournful, and beautiful, Sarah Tolmie's The Fourth Island is a moving and unforgettable story of life and death on the hidden Irish island of Inis Caillte. Huddled in the sea off the coast of Ireland is a fourth Aran Island, a secret island peopled by the lost, findable only in moments of despair. Whether drowned at sea, trampled by the counter-reformation, or exiled Dark, mournful, and beautiful, Sarah Tolmie's The Fourth Island is a moving and unforgettable story of life and death on the hidden Irish island of Inis Caillte. Huddled in the sea off the coast of Ireland is a fourth Aran Island, a secret island peopled by the lost, findable only in moments of despair. Whether drowned at sea, trampled by the counter-reformation, or exiled for clinging to the dead, no outsiders reach the island without giving in to dark emotion. Time and again, The Fourth Island weaves a hypnotic pattern with its prose, presaging doom before walking back through the sweet and sour moments of lives not yet lost. It beautifully melds the certainty of loss with the joys of living, drawing readers under like the tide.

30 review for The Fourth Island

  1. 4 out of 5

    NAT.orious reads ☾

    What's urging me to read this besides the gorgeous cover, you wonder, knowing I'm a sucker for pretty covers. Ummmmmmm-AH. Hellooo?! You have read the synopsis, right? [checks own pulse and loses count quickly] What's urging me to read this besides the gorgeous cover, you wonder, knowing I'm a sucker for pretty covers. Ummmmmmm-AH. Hellooo?! You have read the synopsis, right? [checks own pulse and loses count quickly]

  2. 4 out of 5

    megs_bookrack

    Just reading this synopsis, I am HYPNOTIZED!!! Dark and haunting? You're speaking my language, Tor, thank you so much for the ARC!!! Just reading this synopsis, I am HYPNOTIZED!!! Dark and haunting? You're speaking my language, Tor, thank you so much for the ARC!!!

  3. 4 out of 5

    Janelle

    The fourth island is a novella set in the Aran Islands. The story takes place on Inis Mor and the fictional Inis Caillte (lost island in Gaelic). The island is lost and the people on it are also lost. There’s magic here, people can understand each other even if they speak different languages, the deaf can hear. It reads like a folk tale and I really enjoyed most of the book but the latter section is disappointing and doesn’t have the magic and charm of the earlier parts.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Pamela

    This is a book about being lost, life and death, and redemption. In Irish folklore, there is a fourth Aran island, Inis Caillte, off the coast of Ireland. It is where people who are lost and despairing go when they die. Once there, they are immediately accepted by the other residents because everyone is lost and there are no language barriers. This is certainly not your typical book as there is no easily discernable plot arc and no main character. What there is, though, is wonderfully nuanced wri This is a book about being lost, life and death, and redemption. In Irish folklore, there is a fourth Aran island, Inis Caillte, off the coast of Ireland. It is where people who are lost and despairing go when they die. Once there, they are immediately accepted by the other residents because everyone is lost and there are no language barriers. This is certainly not your typical book as there is no easily discernable plot arc and no main character. What there is, though, is wonderfully nuanced writing and a story of loss and possible redemption My thanks to Tor and Edelweiss for an eARC.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Steven

    ARC provided by the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Where does one go when they're lost? One ends up on Inis Caillte, of course. Mysteriously hidden off the coast of Ireland, Inis Caillte is the unknown fourth Aran Island. This island, however, isn't accessible through conventional means. Only those who are lost are able to find their way there - lost in moments of hopeless despair. The inhabitants are immune to the obstacles of langue and prejudice, and welcome to th ARC provided by the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Where does one go when they're lost? One ends up on Inis Caillte, of course. Mysteriously hidden off the coast of Ireland, Inis Caillte is the unknown fourth Aran Island. This island, however, isn't accessible through conventional means. Only those who are lost are able to find their way there - lost in moments of hopeless despair. The inhabitants are immune to the obstacles of langue and prejudice, and welcome to their community all those who find their way to the island's shore, giving these lost souls an opportunity for a second chance, an opportunity for redemption. Through economical yet passionate prose, Sarah Tolmie fabricates a tale steeped in Irish Folklore and dripping with atmosphere. In this novella, she creates a profound and metaphysical version of the Island of Misfit Toys - one that will make you contemplate both anguish and exultation. I very much enjoyed the ethereal tone of the story and, once finished, I found myself wanting to learn more of Inis Caillte and its mysterious group of inhabitants.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Naja

    My little knitter heart is happy :)

  7. 4 out of 5

    Barb in Maryland

    A very lovely short novella, set in the Aran Islands, touching on life, death; love, despair; and the power of a hand-knit sweater. I really enjoyed this and will keep my eyes open for more from this author. "Wherever there are sheep, there are women knitting sweaters..." A very lovely short novella, set in the Aran Islands, touching on life, death; love, despair; and the power of a hand-knit sweater. I really enjoyed this and will keep my eyes open for more from this author. "Wherever there are sheep, there are women knitting sweaters..."

  8. 5 out of 5

    Missy (myweereads)

    “She was afraid of the ocean’s endlessly reaching silent hands that would seize and drown her.” The Fourth Island by Sarah Tolmie is the haunting story set in a village in the Aran Islands. When a body washes ashore it sets in motion a mystery the inhabitants try desperately to solve. What surfaces is a fourth Island off the coast of Ireland where only those who dwell in despair can make it there through their own darkest moments. From the beginning, this novel sets an ominous atmosphere with its “She was afraid of the ocean’s endlessly reaching silent hands that would seize and drown her.” The Fourth Island by Sarah Tolmie is the haunting story set in a village in the Aran Islands. When a body washes ashore it sets in motion a mystery the inhabitants try desperately to solve. What surfaces is a fourth Island off the coast of Ireland where only those who dwell in despair can make it there through their own darkest moments. From the beginning, this novel sets an ominous atmosphere with its dark prose. The fourth Island Inis Caillte reinvents those who make it as their true selves. The story follows those who witness the body which is washed ashore trying to solve the mystery through a sweater which is knitted with a distinct pattern that they can’t track back to its origins. I really enjoyed the mix of Irish folklore throughout. The key themes of this novel were the joys and sorrow of life and death, those who leave us and those who are left behind. There's a powerful message within the words which is moving and realised as the story reaches its climax. A beautifully moving story told through vivid imagery.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Kara

    Some of the most beautiful prose I’ve read all year. Just wow.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Erin

    An interesting work of speculative fiction infused with Irish folklore. The eponymous "Fourth Island" refers to Inis Caillte, a hidden island that calls to the lost, saving them from death, isolation, and despair. The island erases all barriers of language, difference, and even time, creating a secret community that transforms its unwitting inhabitants into a softer, truer version of themselves. [3/5: Atmospheric and almost philosophical. You can almost feel the sea mist on your face through the An interesting work of speculative fiction infused with Irish folklore. The eponymous "Fourth Island" refers to Inis Caillte, a hidden island that calls to the lost, saving them from death, isolation, and despair. The island erases all barriers of language, difference, and even time, creating a secret community that transforms its unwitting inhabitants into a softer, truer version of themselves. [3/5: Atmospheric and almost philosophical. You can almost feel the sea mist on your face through the pages. Fans of speculative fiction will find much to ponder over in this novella. It was not my personal favorite, partly due to the sparser writing style, but I found it transported me nonetheless.] Thanks to NetGalley & publisher for an ARC in exchange for an honest review!

  11. 4 out of 5

    J.A.

    Library Journal Express reviews recommends it for fans of The Bird King and This Is How You Lose the Time War. Library Journal Express reviews recommends it for fans of The Bird King and This Is How You Lose the Time War.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Rick Brose

    The Fourth Island is not the kind of book where there is a set character focus or story being told. It winds in and out of various lives to tell the tale of the island as a whole, and how it relates to the inhabitants and their connections off the island. Tolmie does an excellent job of creating a lively narrative that gracefully flows from point to point. I love the concept, but I will be the first to admit that I struggle with works that do not feel like they have a beginning, middle, and end. The Fourth Island is not the kind of book where there is a set character focus or story being told. It winds in and out of various lives to tell the tale of the island as a whole, and how it relates to the inhabitants and their connections off the island. Tolmie does an excellent job of creating a lively narrative that gracefully flows from point to point. I love the concept, but I will be the first to admit that I struggle with works that do not feel like they have a beginning, middle, and end. That should not detract others from enjoying this novella. There is a lot here to like.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Colin MacDonald

    This is a good spooky folktale sort of story. It's a novella, and a fairly quick read at that. It's well written, and I enjoyed reading it, but I don't think anything about it really grabbed me. We'll see if it haunts me enough to make me re-read it. This is a good spooky folktale sort of story. It's a novella, and a fairly quick read at that. It's well written, and I enjoyed reading it, but I don't think anything about it really grabbed me. We'll see if it haunts me enough to make me re-read it.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Ashley

    Weird, little atmospheric book. I think most people would not enjoy this story, but for the investment involved, I recommend reading it if you are interested in speculative fiction, isolated islands, and don't mind jumping from character to character. There is no real plot and it is only just over 100 pages so you are essentially getting an idea which is explored for a little bit and then quite an abrupt end! I enjoyed the writing even though there were references to a lot of Irish specific item Weird, little atmospheric book. I think most people would not enjoy this story, but for the investment involved, I recommend reading it if you are interested in speculative fiction, isolated islands, and don't mind jumping from character to character. There is no real plot and it is only just over 100 pages so you are essentially getting an idea which is explored for a little bit and then quite an abrupt end! I enjoyed the writing even though there were references to a lot of Irish specific items that I had to look up.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Lizy

    Note: I received this ARC as a TorDotCom general mailing for booksellers. Thank you to the publisher for hooking a girl up. Ok so the first thing you need to know is if you or a loved one happens to knit, or crochet, or do any other fiber crafts, you (or they) will like this book. It's a rule. I made the rule. The second thing you need to know is this is a literary fantasy. The plot - and with it, the chronology, the character development, the general lack of a "main" character versus a developed Note: I received this ARC as a TorDotCom general mailing for booksellers. Thank you to the publisher for hooking a girl up. Ok so the first thing you need to know is if you or a loved one happens to knit, or crochet, or do any other fiber crafts, you (or they) will like this book. It's a rule. I made the rule. The second thing you need to know is this is a literary fantasy. The plot - and with it, the chronology, the character development, the general lack of a "main" character versus a developed character group, etc - resembles more of a Celtic knot than it does the typical formula most readers expect from virtually every book they read. There is arguably no cohesive "exposition, rising action, climax, conclusion" plot arc. There's just a lot of philosophical points to be made about human nature, being lost and found, despair vs hope, and general belonging. This is not to pick this book apart, I should clarify. I fucking loved it. I was dealing loss today and this book offered the peace and closure I needed to have. It's a beautiful and majestic work that, while it isn't as on brand I normally expect from TorDotCom, absolutely sits up there with the other amazing titles from them in terms of quality and exquisiteness. It also - as I hinted earlier - has a lot to say about the nuances of knitting, and as a knitter (and a spinner and dyer) I don't think I can measure my appreciation in that regard. This isn't some basic "yeah I like to knit, angora is the best" thing, but a breakdown of the time, energy, customization, and symbolism involved with knitting, and specifically, seeing knit sweaters as talismans of protection. This significance might be lost if you've never worked with yarn in any way, but if you're skilled in any handmade fiber arts - even weaving or felting, etc - this book is going to resound with you. To be clear, if you're not a fiber crafter you'll still enjoy this book, it'll just be more enjoyable if you know first-hand what the characters are talking about. Apart from that, this book is a masterpiece. It practically begs re-reading, annotation, dog-eared favorite passages and post-it noted thoughts. The thoughts and ideas take time to work over because there's so much to unpack. It's amazing.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Dawn

    When a dead man washes up on shore in a small village on Inis Meain wearing a sweater that is both familiar and foreign, the villagers don't quite know what to make of it. And so our story begins. This little novel was a really good read, but I'm having trouble putting my finger on how exactly to describe it. It's a close look at the lives of the people in a little village on an island, and as such it's at times a bit dark and foreboding and at other times hopeful and peaceful. It's simple and s When a dead man washes up on shore in a small village on Inis Meain wearing a sweater that is both familiar and foreign, the villagers don't quite know what to make of it. And so our story begins. This little novel was a really good read, but I'm having trouble putting my finger on how exactly to describe it. It's a close look at the lives of the people in a little village on an island, and as such it's at times a bit dark and foreboding and at other times hopeful and peaceful. It's simple and small, while also examining some seemingly universal elements of human nature. It's written in beautiful prose, so I felt both thoughtful and peaceful upon finishing it. Fourth Island is set on the Aran Islands, three islands off the coast of Ireland. (My husband and I actually flew over them and visited the 'Big Island,' Inis Mor, several years ago, and Tolmie's writing so strongly recalled that for me that I couldn't help but go back and look through our travel pictures of that trip after finishing the book.) The islands are captivating, set apart in place and time, steeped in thousands of years of their own history and Irish history and surrounded by the expanse of the ocean. They are the perfect setting for a book that has its own mystical elements with the existence of a mysterious 4th island, Inis Caillte - or the Lost Island, a refuge for those who are lost. Through the tale we learn a little about mysterious-sweater-man, and the people who lost him. But more about the people who find him, and about what it means to be lost, and sometimes, what it means to be found. Thank you to Netgalley for the ARC. This is an unbiased review.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Thomas

    I love the language and the atmosphere of this story, and I love how succinctly Tolmie writes. She uses few words, but evokes everything she wants you to experience with those few words. She's a poet, though, so she's probably used to performing this trick. The thing is, since she's a poet, she's also using the story as an allegory for something. I wish I could put my finger on what it is. I liked the setting and the imagery, and the idea of an island that collects the lost tickles my fancy, but I love the language and the atmosphere of this story, and I love how succinctly Tolmie writes. She uses few words, but evokes everything she wants you to experience with those few words. She's a poet, though, so she's probably used to performing this trick. The thing is, since she's a poet, she's also using the story as an allegory for something. I wish I could put my finger on what it is. I liked the setting and the imagery, and the idea of an island that collects the lost tickles my fancy, but by the end of the book, I wasn't sure what she was trying to tell me. I can see this being a good book for a book club, as it would raise a lot of discussion in that regard. This is probably more like a 3.5-star book for me, but I've rounded up because the good was very good, and outweighed the obtuseness of the ending.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Liz

    Struggled with how to rate this. Three stars for the writing, which was fine from a technical point of view, but if I were rating by story it would be two stars. Wow, that was depressing! This novella ranks with Ormeshadow in terms of cramming the most possible gloominess into relatively few pages. I expected a fourth Aran island to be mysterious and mythical and magical, but it only seems to collect random people for no apparent reason and to export gloom and despair to the other islands.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Matthew Galloway

    This is another of this year's short, dreamy, kind of unresolved tales that I fully enjoyed sinking into. I'm not sure I have much more to say about it. It's like a fragment of a legend or fairy tale, discovered as a side mention in an old book about something totally different. Maybe everyone knew about it at the time, but as much as you'd like to know the full story, the rest has been lost to the ages and you're just lucky you got this glimpse to spark you're curiosity and imagination. This is another of this year's short, dreamy, kind of unresolved tales that I fully enjoyed sinking into. I'm not sure I have much more to say about it. It's like a fragment of a legend or fairy tale, discovered as a side mention in an old book about something totally different. Maybe everyone knew about it at the time, but as much as you'd like to know the full story, the rest has been lost to the ages and you're just lucky you got this glimpse to spark you're curiosity and imagination.

  20. 5 out of 5

    L.

    An invisible island for lost souls to receive a second chance at living; it's an interesting, if haunting, concept. I do like how the author describes despair as a disease, and how it can spread from person to person and wreck havoc upon a community - especially one so small and close-knit - if not checked. The only thing is the prose was a little hard to get through at parts, when the language started getting convoluted and too metaphorical, and I had to double-back to reread. An invisible island for lost souls to receive a second chance at living; it's an interesting, if haunting, concept. I do like how the author describes despair as a disease, and how it can spread from person to person and wreck havoc upon a community - especially one so small and close-knit - if not checked. The only thing is the prose was a little hard to get through at parts, when the language started getting convoluted and too metaphorical, and I had to double-back to reread.

  21. 5 out of 5

    John Rennie

    This novella isn't really a story. Instead it's a series of vignettes tied together by the general theme of the magical fourth Aran island Inis Caillte. So if you are expecting a story with a beginning, a middle and an end, then you need to look elsewhere. If you are willing to accept the novella for what it is then you'll find it a series of charming observations about people and the lives they lead. There is nothing of great consequence here, but it's a pleasant way to spend an hour. This novella isn't really a story. Instead it's a series of vignettes tied together by the general theme of the magical fourth Aran island Inis Caillte. So if you are expecting a story with a beginning, a middle and an end, then you need to look elsewhere. If you are willing to accept the novella for what it is then you'll find it a series of charming observations about people and the lives they lead. There is nothing of great consequence here, but it's a pleasant way to spend an hour.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Henry Lazarus

    There are three known Aran islands off of Ireland. Sarah Tolmie’s tale of The Fourth Island (paper from Tor) where only people who truly despair live, starts with a dead body washing ashore on Inis Môr with a sweater with an unrecognizable pattern. The year is 1840, but the inhabitants of Inis Caillte can come from other times. It is a place where language is magically understood. Very strange and compelling.Review printed by Philadelphia Free Press

  23. 4 out of 5

    Sascha

    Ohhhh this was good. Like a stiff breeze moving through your whole brain and clearing out all the trash hidden in the corners. How do you go on after death? How do the survivors manage? And what is the purpose of a good warm sweater in all of this? I guess you gotta read this poetic little story to find out. Don't go too far from shore though. The sea might eat you up and spit you out on the other side. Ohhhh this was good. Like a stiff breeze moving through your whole brain and clearing out all the trash hidden in the corners. How do you go on after death? How do the survivors manage? And what is the purpose of a good warm sweater in all of this? I guess you gotta read this poetic little story to find out. Don't go too far from shore though. The sea might eat you up and spit you out on the other side.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Laura Hoffman Brauman

    The Fourth Island tells the tale of Innis Caillte - a fourth Aran island off the coast of Ireland, a lost island. The people on this island appear here from other times and places - while some people are born and raised on the island, those that find the island as adults don't know how they got there, just that they were lost before they found the island. There is no real character or plot arc in this novella, but the writing is beautiful and I love the atmosphere that Tolmie created. The Fourth Island tells the tale of Innis Caillte - a fourth Aran island off the coast of Ireland, a lost island. The people on this island appear here from other times and places - while some people are born and raised on the island, those that find the island as adults don't know how they got there, just that they were lost before they found the island. There is no real character or plot arc in this novella, but the writing is beautiful and I love the atmosphere that Tolmie created.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Cat

    Beautiful story. There's something extremely haunting about the prose. Read it using a book weight to hold down the pages so I could knit at the same time and there was something fitting about reading it knitting gansey yarn that still smells strongly of lanolin. Five stars. Beautiful story. There's something extremely haunting about the prose. Read it using a book weight to hold down the pages so I could knit at the same time and there was something fitting about reading it knitting gansey yarn that still smells strongly of lanolin. Five stars.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Sandra Grauschopf

    Prettily written, this feels like the exercise that an author does before starting to tell their story. If you're going to read it, and I'm not saying you shouldn't, be sure you go into it aware that it's not so much a novella as a series of beautifully-written snippets that end abruptly. Prettily written, this feels like the exercise that an author does before starting to tell their story. If you're going to read it, and I'm not saying you shouldn't, be sure you go into it aware that it's not so much a novella as a series of beautifully-written snippets that end abruptly.

  27. 5 out of 5

    L

    The prose is lovely, but there's not really much structure to it. There's a late introduction of a pseudo-plot (or at least a source of conflict and dread), but the way it's resolved feels almost like a summary of events rather than the events themselves. Just not my cup of tea, I think. The prose is lovely, but there's not really much structure to it. There's a late introduction of a pseudo-plot (or at least a source of conflict and dread), but the way it's resolved feels almost like a summary of events rather than the events themselves. Just not my cup of tea, I think.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Erin

    Review to come

  29. 4 out of 5

    Anna Eklund

    3.5 stars rounded up

  30. 4 out of 5

    Miriam

    A lovely little slip of a book, but the ending is a letdown.

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