Author: Alexis Schaitkin
ISBN: 978-1-5290-1427-3
Copy courtesy of Pan Macmillan

Saint X is the debut novel of Alexis Schaitkin and is based on the mythical island of Saint X in the Caribbean where 18-year-old Alison Thomas, her seven-year-old sister Claire and their parents have gone for their annual week-long holiday in 1995 to escape winter back home in the USA.

The book begins “with an aerial view” as we focus down through the clouds first to the archipelago, then to the individual islands and their topography and then down to the island of Saint X.  Zooming in further we focus in on the Resort Indigo Bay, families, honeymooners, retirees laying around on the beach. Zooming in yet again we focus on a young woman, idly walking down the sand to where her family lies, this is Alison, a young woman looking for excitement, danger, something to make meaning of her ordinary, boring, rich suburban life. 

Her little sister, Claire, Clairey to her family, adores and idolises Alison as can happen with such a significant age gap between sisters. Where Alison is beautiful, poised, confident, Claire is unusual looking, lacking in confidence and self-esteem, their parents are like cardboard cutouts, referred to by Schaitken as “the mother”, “the father”. Other characters also have an ethereal appearance referred to by an identifying characteristic, the man in the pink dolphin print swim trunks, the blonde boy, the actor etc. except for the tales other two protagonists, Edwin and Clive (aka Gogo), the skinny one and the fat one, who work at the resort.

When Alison goes missing, and her body is subsequently found submerged at the waterfall at Faraway Cay an investigation is launched. Although Edwin and Clive (or possibly the blonde boy) are suspected of being involved in Alison’s disappearance and subsequent death there is not sufficient evidence to charge anybody and the case is closed.

One of those unusual aspects of Schatikin’s writing is that at the end of each chapter there are a couple of pages in bold font which give a viewpoint of someone associated with Alison, the resort or the investigation which gives us little snippets into the bigger picture.

We are then given an insight into Claire, her childhood, her need to write words in the air, the events relating to Alison’s disappearance and finding of her body and the aftermath from the eyes of a child.  When her parents sell the family home and move across the country Claire decides that she will no longer be Claire but will go by her middle name, Emily.

As a young woman, a chance taxi ride brings Emily back into contact with Clive from Saint X.  This triggers an obsession to find out who her sister Alison was, and what happened to her, an obsession that will take over her life as she struggles to reconcile the sister she thought she knew with the girl she discovers.

Along the way, we get insights into Edwin and Clive’s upbringing and relationship, and the events that turn them into who they are and what they become.

In addition to providing a well written and insightful (if at times overly descriptive) fictional “true crime” novel, Schaitkin also beautifully represents the experiences of those inhabitants of Islands in the Caribbean etc. as they negotiate the change to their homeland with the influx of expensive Tourist Resorts catering to those much wealthier than they are and the positive and negatives of those experiences. 

This is a richly atmospheric book and well worth reading, however, I admit to finding it hard to read and I was only able to do so in short bursts. I found Schaitkin’s writing style to be very different, unusual and, at times, disconcerting. I remain undecided as to whether I enjoyed it or not, something of a dilemma for me as I am usually clear as to how a book leaves me feeling.  I will be interested to see how other Beauty and Lace readers found it.

My thanks Pan MacMillan and Beauty and Lace bookclub for the opportunity to read and review Saint X.

A selection of our Beauty and Lace Club Members are reading Saint X by Alexis Schaitkin. You can read their comments below, or add your own review.

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