Book Review: Caribou Island by David Vann

Caribou Island by David Vann

Oh yes, the promotion worked: I fell for it! Harper offered a free download of David Vann’s novella Sukwan Island to celebrate the publication of Caribou Island. I loved Sukkwan Island so yes, at the earliest opportunity, which came by way of an amazon voucher that I won in a giveaway by Joy’s Book Blog, I bought the book.

Caribou Island: What it is about

This is the story of Irene and Gary, a couple married for 30 years, who are working towards a dream of Gary’s: to live on a remote island, though not too far away from their own home, to spend some time there and to be self-sufficient.

At the beginning of the book they are transporting logs in their boat to the island. Soon it becomes clear that Irene isn’t all that keen to move to the island. This is really Gary’s dream and he likes to think it’s also Irene’s, but really, it isn’t.

After a bad cold, Irene develops a persistent head ache that keeps her awake at night. She feels increasingly worse and wonders if she will ever be able to sleep again.

Gary, meanwhile, thinks her head aches are not real, just an excuse not to help build the cabin. Their relationship becomes even more strained than it already was.

They have two adult children, daughter Rhoda, who is in a relationship with dentist Jim, and son Mark, who lives with Karen and doesn’t accept the responsibilities of adulthood, according to Rhoda. Rhoda is worried about her parents while Mark believes all will be well.

Caribou Island: What I thought

I’m not sure that I should give this book 5 stars, but it is worth more than 4, and I don’t do halves anymore. So 5 stars it is!

The book is beautifully written, in the same style as Sukkwan Island. The tone of the book is a bit sad. From the beginning of the book onwards, I was expecting to see Gary’s plans to live on the island collapse.

The dialogs are full of short sentences, no one talks a lot in this book. This also adds to the sense of foreboding somehow.

I liked it that Rhoda and Jim also play a role in Sukkwan Island. The story in Caribou Island seemed contemporary but that isn’t really possible, because Sukkwan Island is about Jim and his 13 year old son (who isn’t born yet in Caribou Island). So, that book has to have taken place later than Caribou Island.

The book was never very uplifting, so don’t read it if you want a happy book. However, the story is beautiful, with a real feel for the location, Alaska.

My one reason to give the book slightly less than 5 stars (but more than 4) is that very little happens in most of the book. Irene was complaining about her head, Gary was impatient about building the cabin, and I was impatient to see some progress of the story. I would have appreciated a little more action.

If you love good literary fiction, then you really must read this wonderful book.

Rating: 5/5

I got this book: bought it from with a voucher that I’d won in a giveaway

I read this in: English, the original language

Number of pages: 293

First published: 2011

Genre: literary fiction

About Leeswammes
I'm owner and editor at In my free time, I read and review books on my two blogs, Leeswammes' Blog and De Boekblogger.

20 Responses to Book Review: Caribou Island by David Vann

  1. theonlycin says:

    OK, you have me sold 🙂

  2. parrish says:

    Have seen this book a few times now & it pricks at my curiosity, the fact that not much happens isn’t that much of a problem to me, I quite like that if the dialogue is good.

  3. Diane says:

    This story was so dark, yet it was addictive for me. I was happy I read it as well.

  4. Beth F says:

    This is very, very high up on my TBR — and I can’t wait to read it.

  5. Darlene says:

    Great review. I picked this book up a while ago and can’t wait to read it. So many people have given it a high rating.

  6. Nadine Nys says:

    I have Sukkwan Island as e-book, but have not read it yet. I wil have to move it up in my TBR-pile. Thanks for the (as always) great review.

  7. winstonsdad says:

    I loved this when I read it seemed perfect follow on to his last book , he knows the scenery and characters so well it makes it a breeze to read

  8. Chinoiseries says:

    If I understand correctly, the slow pace of the story mirrors the area they are in? I still want to read Caribou Island, but I can only take so much sadness in a given time… it’ll remain on my to-read pile for a little while longer 😉

  9. I enjoy books about families so I will probably like this book. The cover is beautiful!

    I will look to see if they have it at my library (I’m trying to use the library as much as possible). I’m happy to say I have purchased just one book this year. 🙂

    • Leeswammes says:

      Mari, I also think that over is so beautiful! I couldn’t help myself, I had to look at it every now and then while reading the book. 🙂

      The book is from February this year, so I hope your library has it already.

  10. Young1 says:

    I have seen this book about everywhere and now i know that i need a copy! Thanks for the great review 😀

  11. Leslie says:

    This is one of those books I’d like to read but probably would have to be in the right mood for. Although I love nature and beautiful settings, I can’t imagine actually moving to an island in Alaska… an island in the Carribbean, sure, but somewhere cold and dark, too depressing.

  12. I enjoyed this book as well! Had me slightly depressed, though…

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