The Island Child by Molly Aitken
(Canongate, 2020)

The Island Child

by Molly Aitken

Twenty years ago, Oona left the island of Inis for the very first time. A wind-blasted rock of fishing boats and turf fires, where the only book was the Bible and girls stayed in their homes until they became mothers themselves, the island was a gift for some, a prison for others. Oona was barely more than a girl, but promised herself she would leave the tall tales behind and never return.

The Island Child tells two stories: of the girl who grew up watching births and betrayals, storms and secrets, and of the adult Oona, desperate to find a second chance, only to discover she can never completely escape. As the strands of Oona’s life come together, in blood and marriage and motherhood, she must accept the price we pay when we love what is never truly ours.

Rich, haunting and rooted in Irish folklore, The Island Child is a spellbinding debut novel about identity and motherhood, freedom and fate, and the healing power of stories.


A magical, elemental tale. Exploring loss and love, motherhood and freedom and the transformative power of stories, The Island Child is a wonderful debut”
- Jess Kidd, author of Things in Jars
It’s a rare pleasure to come across quite such an accomplished novel as The Island Child. This is a work positively brimming with pathos and emotion, articulated in truly exquisite prose. Oona is a captivating narrator. She’s alive on the page”
- Nathan Filer, author of The Shock of the Fall
The Island Child is the story of a mother’s relationship with a misbegotten daughter, sensitively and subtly told”
- Fay Weldon, author of The Life and Loves of a She Devil
Aitken stitches together many themes—folk-legend, family saga, love story, coming of age tale. The result is the sort of book you want to sink into a hot bath with and not emerge until it's finished.”
- Rowan Hisayo Buchanan, author of Harmless Like You
A confident tale of generational conflict and continuity . . . Inspired in part by Irish folklore and in part by Persephone, the seasonally elusive daughter of Greek myth, this is a story steeped in fable but also inescapably rooted in a real world”
- Irish News
The Island Child is an evocative and original tale exploring motherhood, told in rich, beautiful prose. A wonderful debut.”
- Jenny Quintana, author of The Missing Girl
I read The Island Child in a day, and I know I’ll be coming back to it. It reads like a dream. Written in quietly sorcerous prose, this novel combines the uncluttered abstraction of a fable with the odd calamitous detail. Like the casts of fairy stories, Aitken’s characters can stand for as much as you want them to – but they’re also fully realised individuals who come to you through peeks and glances, so that without being able to pinpoint how it happened, you know them, and feel you always have. This is a thrillingly original debut, and I can’t wait to see what Aitken does next”
- Naoise Dolan, author of Exciting Times
Aitken brings a gut-pummelling mix of folklore, feminism and psychological trauma to her wild debut tale of mothers impelled to take out on their daughters the sins committed against them.”
- Scottish Daily Mail
A beautiful wrench of a book. I can still feel it tingling under my skin.”
- Katie Hale, author of My Name is Monster