Angry young Nikki Black, dropped off at a post office at birth, tells her life story, a series of unsuccessful placements in homes, a stint in a children’s home, and initial successes followed by self-sabotage and failure. She blames her fear of success on her lack of a mother. A mother, she says, makes you “free to fly.” If she can find her and destroy her, Nikki reasons, she will be rid of this fear.

She traces her mother to a remote island off the coast of Scotland and becomes a boarder in her house without disclosing her real identity. She discovers that her mother is a sickly widow who concocts herbal potions and sells them and that she has a brother Calum, whom Nikki describes as a “farm-idiot type man” and a “fool.” Calum collects bits and pieces of junk brought in by the waves and lodged in the dirt and is also the keeper of many island stories, told to him by his father. These fairytale-like stories are as strange and harsh as the island itself, involving infidelity, incest, and mothers who kill their children. In listening to Calum and spending time with him, Nikki begins a process of transformation.

In Islands, Jane Rogers has created a dark, sometimes disturbing tale of murder and myth that captivates and surprises before finally leaving the reader with a powerful, positive insight.