The French are considering a nuclear test on Saint-Esprit Island. In order to facilitate the building of a runway, albatross nests have been destroyed and birds were killed by the hundreds. Dr. Barbara’s mission in life, at least for now, is to save the albatross. So this slightly eccentric (ok . . .very eccentric) woman has gathered a few like-minded people to help accomplish her mission. The group sails to the island where they are met by a flotilla of hundreds of people attracted to the cause. Television cameras beam the action around the world. The French decide that the island isn’t worth the bad press and quietly leave. The publicity dies down, sightseers leave, TV crews leave, and finally Dr. Barbara and her followers are left to themselves. They settle down to make things safe for the albatross and to build a nature sanctuary for endangered species. So far, so good.
As the months creep by and food becomes hard to get, things begin to change. Dr. Barbara’s mission also begins to change. This tongue-in-cheek send-off of environmentalists and protesters gradually morphs into a dark, disturbing tale of a charismatic leader whose followers are unable to resist her bizarre plans. I can’t say I enjoyed the book . . . it was too unsettling. But like all of Ballard’s novels, it provided much food for thought.
eGalley review Publication date 2.4.13