Cloud on Silver – John Christopher

Cloud on Silver

Summary

A mixed group of comfortable, educated people is invited on a cruise by a mysterious, powerful benefactor. Circumstances trap them on a strange island, and the pressure of the situation brings out different sides of all of them.

Review

Also published as Sweeney’s Island, Cloud on Silver comes across as Christopher’s attempt to write Lord of the Flies with adults (or, if you prefer, an updated, modified Heart of Darkness). Of course, part of what made Lord of the Flies so shocking is that it was about children. Christopher’s version loses that shock, and becomes simply a description of human weakness. It’s effective, but not really novel. It also leaves loose ends dangling all over the place at its end.

Christopher is a good writer, and the book moves smoothly, with interesting, effective characters. It does very much have the feel of the ’60s in which it was written, but it’s not a major impediment. More problematic is Christopher’s casual dismissal of the story’s only non-European characters – Hawaiian ‘boys’ who as far as I recall are never named. They’re used primarily to give depth and complexity for the only character who stands up against their mistreatment.

It’s this complexity that Christopher manages well. There are certainly evil acts, and perhaps even evil characters, but these are all real people. For his plot purposes, he does allow for two fairly straightforward ‘good’ characters, but one is as well detailed as the less simple characters. Only one, whose viewpoint we never see, is never developed.

Christopher switches the perspective freely among the principal characters, excepting only a few that remain mysterious – one being Sweeney, the man who has brought them all to the island to begin with. And here Christopher fails, to some extent. He’s so concerned with keeping Sweeney mysterious that he forgets some of the threads he’s laid out, and portions of the story don’t really make sense at the end.

All that said, it’s an interesting and effective story. It will be most effective for those who have not read Lord of the Flies or Heart of Darkness, but it’s a considerably easier (and to my mind, more interesting) read than the latter.

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