Tuesday, April 03, 2012

The Penal Colony by Richard Herley.

Anthony Routledge awakes on Sert, a small island off the north Cornwall coast. He is a Category Z prisoner and has been sent to live the rest of his natural life on the penal colony. There is no escape from Sert and the prisoners are left to govern themselves, with no prison service staff on hand. Sert has developed into 4 very different communities. The most comfortable is the village and acceptance is strictly upon approval. The Old Town is inhabited by the roughest element of Category Z prisoner, whilst the lighthouse holds their rivals. The real outsiders are the wild men who live strictly on their own and roam about the island but keep away from all other prisoners living in the village, the Old Town or the lighthouse.

Anthony Routledge is the central character in this novel and he has been told the rules of how to become a member of the village...

“The rules of the Community are these. You will work as directed by the Father. You will not intentionally injure any member of the Community or damage Community property. You will not lie, steal, cheat, or engage in deviant sexual practices. As there are no women here, that means you are allowed to do nothing to anyone or anything but yourself. Do you understand the rules?”

...However, outside the village, prisoners are free and do enjoy gay sex.

The Penal Colony was written in 1987 but it is not dated. It is a modern day story and does not show it's age. I enjoyed reading The Penal Colony and it is a thriller. The story builds up and you gain the very real sense of isolation that Anthony feels. He has no hope in his future and is very worried about what is to come. I developed an empathy for Anthony who is stuck for ever to die on an island, where any one of the Category Z prisoners could kill him before his time.

The Penal Colony has an all male cast and much of this story is about male bonding. This book explores at great length how all societies work, how people gain and develop respect for each other and how the class system works. The reader, like the Category Z prisoners, is forced to put aside their prejudices and give each man a fresh start with a clean sheet and ignore the crimes of his past. This novel covers a lot of psychology and digs deep into what makes men tick, how values are adopted, what morality actually means and how communities really work. The Penal Colony is a social commentary that addresses a lot of problems that exist on mainland life.

When The Penal Colony was written in 1987, recycling was not a big issue and most of our rubbish was buried in land fill sites. The Penal Colony is a blue print for recycling and I have never read so much about recycling in a novel before. Everything on Sert was recycled, no matter how small, even if you thought the item was end-of-life. All this recycling was ingenious and added great colour to the story.

Richard Herley writes with a very wide vocabulary which included many medieval English words that I had to move my Kindle cursor onto to confirm the meaning. This added great character to the novel because the Category Z prisoners were living day to day like people did in the middle ages.

The Penal Colony is available as a 473 KB Amazon Kindle eBook, which is now selling for £1.98 although I downloaded it for free a while ago. It would have been worth the money as it is a good book and I will vote it 4 stars on Good Reads .  The Penal Colony has a good ending and the saddest part for me was when Ojukwu had his final words...

He heard Ojukwu speaking, using his name.
“What was that, Ojukwu? I didn’t hear.”
Ojukwu’s voice sounded feeble and very odd.
“I said, it was you, wasn’t it? It was you put that note in my pocket.”
Routledge was on the verge of lying. “Yes,” he said. “It was me.”
“We appreciated that, Routledge.”
“Ojukwu? What’s wrong?”
Ojukwu did not answer.
“You’ve torn your suit, haven’t you?”
When Ojukwu again failed to reply, Routledge knew that the attempt would have to be abandoned. The cockpit hatch would have to be opened, the lading changed: and for that to happen the ketch would have to rise and make itself known to the Magic Circle.
“Answer me, Ojukwu! Thaine! Thaine! Ojukwu’s torn his suit! We’ve got to get him on board!”
“Did you hear that inside?” Thaine said.
“Yes,” Appleton said. “I’m shutting the inlet valve now. Try to get him out of the water. We’ll break the hatch seals just as soon as we can.”
The handgrips were so spaced that the swimmers were set far enough apart not to interfere with one another’s movements. Ojukwu’s handgrip was about two metres along from Routledge’s.
“Can you help me, Blackshaw?” Routledge called out. He checked his safety line and began groping his way forward along the hull. Even before he reached Ojukwu’s empty handgrip he had guessed the truth. Ojukwu, the dying Ojukwu, had cast himself adrift.

so political correctnes even goes back as far as 1987!!??!!
Ojukwu is an African name, gotta have a coon in some form in every book, film, play etc........
It is not political correctness but a fact that there are many black skinned prisoners serving time in our prisons. Sert was a penal colony for Category Z offenders regardless of ethnic origin. Richard Herley had a large cast of different prisoners to highlight how we can all judge people badly from their appearance, dress, manner of speech and their past crimes.

I found it very sad that Ojukwu wanted to know just before he died that it was Anthony who put that note in his pocket and to thank him for his discretion.
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