On 13th November the Reading Wales book group met to discuss The Island of Apples by Glyn Jones. Despite a lower turnout this month (several members sending their apologies) we managed to have a good discussion.
The Island of Apples is a story of a boy whose life changes radically when he befriends Karl – a boy whom Dewi’s father rescues from a river. Opinions vary as to whether Karl is real or whether he exists only in Dewi’s imagination; the author maintained that he did exist. From the moment Dewi meets Karl, he takes an instant liking to him, adores him, constantly fantasises about him, even finds him physically attractive. Recently, there has been more discussion regarding the relationship between the two boys. Most critics see it as a homosocial one, an example of male bonding, but it does verge on homoerotic at times.
Nevertheless, Karl’s appeal lies, to a great extent, in his being an outsider to the close-knit community of Ystrad as well as his life experience. Through listening to the stories of his adventures (although it is clear to the reader that many of them must be made up) the boys experience excitement they are hungry for. Moreover, for Dewi, Karl serves as a male role model he does not have at home since his mother has the upper hand in the relationship with her husband.
Critics often tend to see Karl as embodying an idealized version of Dewi’s childhood, his adventures being things Dewi would like to have done himself. However, for me, Karl represents the force that helps Dewi make the necessary transition into adulthood. Karl’s eloquent, comes across as mature and knows how to talk to adults. It is only through him that the boys are able to stand up to their oppressors, especially Growler, their heasmaster, who never misses an opportunity to humiliate them. Karl helps Dewi grow by contributing to the deaths of all the adults who controlled Dewi’s life, although due to the uncertainty regarding Karl’s existence, it is unclear whether the deaths are real or symbolic.
We liked the different paces of narrative in the novel and the suspended narrative at the beginning, We suggested that it may be better to let the story wash over you rather than trying to make sense of it at all times. This book is a story of a boy trying to make sense of the world himself and perhaps should be read as such.