(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The text of this short novel is presented as a diary of an unnamed narrator, a fugitive from justice, living on an island that he assumes is in the Ellice archipelago. The narrator has found the island with the help of a rug seller in Calcutta who told him about a group of people who came to the island in 1925, built several buildings, and then disappeared. The island is known to be the focal point of a mysterious disease that attacks the body and works inward, its victims losing fingernails and hair and, finally, skin.

After a period of time spent alone on the island, exploring the museum, church, swimming pool, and mill built by the group in 1925, the narrator suddenly sees a group of people dancing and singing. He observes the group unnoticed for several days and becomes fascinated by Faustine, a beautiful woman who sits for long periods of time admiring the sunset. When he finally musters the courage to reveal himself to the woman, he finds that she pretends not to see him. As he becomes more open about his presence on the island, he realizes that he is invisible to all of the people and that they seem to be repeating at certain intervals their exact actions and words, as if they were acting parts in a play.

As the narrator eavesdrops on a meeting of the group, he hears Morel explain to the group that he has invented a machine which photographs the people through a complex process of recording their senses completely. The machine is then...

(The entire section is 586 words.)