Review: A Prison in the Sun by Isobel Blackthorn

Before we even explore the story Isobel Blackthorn highlights to the reader that this novel has been written to honour and remember those individuals imprisoned in Agricola Penitenciaria in Tefia under General Franco’s regime.  Located on the island of Fuerteventura this prison was brutal, likened to the conditions one would find in a concentration camp, and people were punished for being gay. In this narrative, Isobel has brought to life what happened during this horrendous time and for many is probably a time we were not even aware of.

Within the opening pages of A Prison in the Sun, if the narrator hadn’t openly mentioned that he was male and goes by the name Trevor Moore, I would have assumed from the descriptions that I was following a female protagonist through the chapters of this novel.

“I couldn’t help but be aware of how white my skin looked. I gazed in horror in the bedroom mirror at two spindly legs and a pair of flaccid arms poking out the limb holes of my apparel. I was carrying much too much flesh around my middle.”

However, realistically if I had thought about the earlier setting of the scene by Isobel, I should have realised that it was a male lead.

With Trevor exploring the local area around his holiday rental in Tefia he soon stumbles upon the rundown compound that had at one time been a youth hostel. However, it was not this particular history that drew Trevor to the building but rather the very dark and sinister past surrounding the former purpose of the compound: a military airbase turned into a political prison under the rule of General Franco.

“From 1954, as the result of a law making homosexuality illegal under a vagrancy act, gay men were incarcerated at the hostel, then a prison farm, for up to three years.”

Could this be what he is looking for; his inspiration for his big break into the literary world?

Trevor had travelled to Fuerteventura to get away from it all; his recent messy divorce and his lack of recognition that his wife was in fact gay.  As a ghostwriter, he is normally the one that puts pen to paper for no reward whatsoever and quite frankly he is sick on the anonymity. The aim of this trip is therefore to find something interesting that he can put his name to. Something that was grapple with the reader’s imagination and forces them to delve further into the story, desperate to discover what happens next.

So when he finds out about the horrendous past of the building right on his doorstep he decides to research further. Could this be what he is looking for?

Or will it be his recent escape from nearly drowning in the caves at the local beach that will win out? After all, he does discover a rucksack hidden within the walls of the caves that may also deliver him with a plot that readers may find appealing.

One thing is for sure, whichever storyline he decides to pursue, it will be an interesting one.

A Prison in the Sun by Isobel Blackthorn

My Thoughts on A Prison in the Sun

This is a man tortured by his own sexuality. Desperate to hold on to his heterosexuality he stays clear of anything to suggest delving into homosexuality and perhaps his own denial further.

“I was straight, despite my teenage dalliance. I was not repressed or in denial, despite my wayward gaze.”

Although I believe that this is exactly the point of the novel; to explore the suffering and stigmatisation of so many people when they are trying to battle with both themselves and others over their sexuality.  The narrator is clearly pained throughout with his own battle with his masculinity and perhaps his true repressed sexuality. It seems that he feels that he cannot be both masculine and gay.

It is also eye-opening to find out more about the history of an Island now famed as a holiday location for so many. We are obviously all aware that each and every country has a history of poorly treating its gay community but I wonder how many have actually set up a ‘concentration camp’ to condemn those that they thought were gay.

This novel has a hard-hitting, emotive storyline that not everyone will enjoy or want to know more about. I often feel that ignorance overrides knowledge and even those that believe they are quite liberal would prefer to remain in the dark. For me personally, I am now retracing my steps to a holiday taken on Fuerteventura some years ago to see whether we ever visited the area around Tefia and perhaps saw the windmill without ever taking in the menacing past it helps to conceal.

Have you read any of Isobel Blackthorn’s novels set in the Canary Islands?

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