Orient by Christopher Bollen

Orient by Christopher Bollen

Posted 2016-06-17 by Catherine Van Bergenfollow

They crop up in the news from time to time- townships that are fighting the imminent progression of modernity that appears to threaten the historical aspects of their area. It could be the introduction of a set of traffic lights to encourage road safety for pedestrians, or the installation of a main water line to ease pressure on the existing supply; whatever the case and whether it is in the interests of the townspeople or not, there are always some who are determined to fight change and keep living in their ‘ideal’ little bubbles. This is the case in Orient, a secluded seaside village at the eastern edge of Long Island, which has begun to see a dramatic increase in weekend visitors from the other end of the island, New York City. With this influx of new people- including rich artists who have moved to the area, hoping to build up an artist commune- the original residents of Orient (whose families have owned the land for generations) begin to feel as though their simple community is being compromised.

This is particularly the case when a young man appears in the township, the guest of a former resident who has moved back to tidy his parents’ estate. With a dubious background, the young man, who calls himself Mills, becomes the catalyst for a string of dark events that begin to occur in the once-sleepy town of Orient. Despite protests of innocence by himself, his ‘guardian’ Paul and new neighbourhood friend Beth, Mills finds himself having to defend his actions, simply because he is the outsider and easy to blame. To add further fuel to the flames, grotesque ‘science experiment’-type creatures are washing up onshore from the mysterious Plum Island- a Government-run laboratory that experiments with disease control. These events, along with a series of murders, shatter the peace of the once idyllic township, forcing the Orient Historical Board (OHB) to ramp up their campaigns regarding the preservation of their land, and thrusting buried secrets out into the open. With Mills a strong candidate for blame, he and Beth work to uncover the true culprit behind the murders and try to work out the links between each of the key characters in the drama. But everyone has secrets of their own, and some will stop at nothing to keep them hidden…

This novel, while long, is well-written (to a point) and builds up into a strong suspense-filled storyline. There are so many politics involved in the nature of small townships like Orient, and the author has done a good job of getting that message across. His development of the numerous characters would have been a challenge, but he is able to paint a strong representation of each of them- providing meaningful backstories and clear views of where they lie in the drama. Unfortunately, the once-tight and engaging plot starts to unravel at the end, leaving readers with a highly unsatisfying conclusion, and a lot of unanswered questions. Had he been able to successfully navigate this ending, despite the difficulties involved, the author would have probably gotten a higher score for his novel. That said, the book is still highly engaging, providing a clear insight into the ‘us’ and ‘them’ mechanics of small town living, and clearly demonstrating the difference that a stranger can make to a community bent against change.

Rating: 3/5
Published: April 2015


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