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Islands have obsessed authors for years. Something about observing society in miniature, surrounded by sea, is inescapably satisfying to write – and even more so to read. Again and again, I turn to books set on pieces of land marooned by water, in order to encounter communities at their most intense and intricate.

In Michael Crummey’s Galore, we meet the 19th-century inhabitants of a remote, small coastal town on Newfoundland, wrestling with all the best ingredients for a superstition-led saga spanning two centuries: a beached whale, a man birthed from its belly, and a wise woman determined to protect him.

Another fabulist take on island tales is Monique Roffey’s The Mermaid of Black Conch, this year’s Costa prize winner. In stark and uncompromisingly visceral language, a flesh-and-blood mermaid is hauled into a fishing boat off the coast of an imaginary Caribbean island, and what ensues is a brutal and intriguing story about ownership, jealousy and the dangers of a tale passed mouth to mouth by bitter tongues.

Islands are perfect settings for origin stories: places where characters can be formed before moving into the larger and often hostile world. Nowhere is this clearer than in Wide Sargasso Sea, Jean Rhys’s classic prequel to Jane Eyre. Opening in Jamaica in the immediate aftermath of the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833, it considers the deep scars inflicted by colonial rule on a landscape and its inhabitants.

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