Review: “The Island of Lost Islands” by Tim Maly

Tim Maly’s recent book on the afterlives of utopias is in turns interesting, deep, frustrating, indulgent, and in the finest tradition of Borges, nonexistent.

Maly adopts a wistful tone of analysis, and Borges is again a pretty obvious influence on that language. And while Maly’s insights are pretty amazing, I felt like he cherry picked his examples a bit. Let’s be honest– some of the examples that inform us of the nature of dead utopias have sunk to the bottom of the sea, a fact he glosses over. At points I was left saying “Come on Tim, you can do better than that! Dive a little!” while people wondered who I was talking to.

But I don’t want to tear this book down, I want you to imagine yourself reading it. Flaws aside, he recreates a mental landscape of lost dreams that bewilders and excites in turns. The narrative winds its way up mountains and plunges down cliffs in a manner that really does evoke actual nausea, but in a good way. These afterlives deserve the physical act of grief, and Maly lives up to that. (For this reason I recommend no more than 15 pages at a time, and not too close to mealtimes. Also, The Island of Lost Islands doesn’t mix well with Flagyl or other photosensitive antibiotics, which I found out the hard way. Oops.)

That it reaches so high is one of the things that frustrates me about Island, because you’re left always wanting it to reach a little higher. Yes, there’s echos of Collapse, but more as if you were to imagine it as a LARPing manual than a pop-geo-anthropology text.

Close your eyes and read Tim Maly’s Island, let it flow through you, change you, and possibly cleanse you digestively. It will let you see utopia in a new, beautiful, and heartrending way. But for fuck’s sake, don’t buy it. Not a word is true.