On the Greek Island of Hydra, art collector and philanthropist Jimmy Codrington and his wife, Phaine, live a privileged life in Belle Air, their exclusive estate high up on the mountainside above the port. Among their Byzantine icons and paintings of Hydriot sea captains, Jimmy and Phaine revel in their wealthy bourgeois English values--that is until Naomi, Jimmy’s left-wing lawyer daughter, comes to stay. Filled with a vague sense of dissatisfaction with the tempo of the world, listless Naomi has mostly internalized her disappointment of her father while fermenting a silent hatred of her snobbish stepmother. Perhaps it is the island itself, or the summers that seem to go on forever, or even the “ancient bohemians” whom Jimmy and Phaine mingle with that have exacerbated Lucy’s cognizance of the place where she grew up.
In this mesmerizing, gorgeously written tale of obsession, greed and manipulation, Osborne takes us deep into the heart of Hydra’s small community, where a robbery goes terribly wrong and where the dark heart of the relationship between Naomi and her new best friend, Sam Haldone, is finally exposed. Sam, currently holidaying on the Island for with her wealthy American parents, is outwardly thrilled to have found someone different to hang out with. Naomi can take control of each subsequent day and offer Sam “a sense of knowing what she wanted long before anyone else did.”
Naomi is also altered by her friendship with Sam, a bond that becomes a dark truce as they spend their days swimming and dining and smoking dope. Walking the cliffs in the full sunlight, they spy a figure: a man asleep on his side, half naked in tracksuit pants. Young, long-haired, this “exhausted hobo of the sea” is a Syrian refugee named Faoud. While Sam is filled with an elated trepidation at the discovery, Naomi decides she wants to help him: “We can do whatever we want. There’s nothing, dangerous in it.” Naomi is convinced she should do the “humanitarian thing.” Complicit, eager, and attuned to the project at hand, Sam becomes a sort of “platonic lover,” a way for Naomi to institute her plan of action.
Whisked into the salubrious world of the Codrington family’s parties, innocent Sam is unaware of the lengths to which Naomi will go to prove her point. Beneath Hydra’s vaporous silver clouds, summer ripens into its full delirium. Naomi is let loose from a consciousness already delicately weakened. She sees it as a wasted opportunity not to lose her influence over the refugee. At first, they house Faoud at an abandoned house at Episkopi. Then Naomi hatches a plan for him to break into her home on the sly and steal her father’s most precious items. Initially hesitant, Faoud is unexpectedly overwhelmed by Naomi’s willingness to allow him a fresh start by giving him her father’s money.
Chapter by startling chapter, the reader is privy to what happens during three-time sequences for Naomi, Sam, and Faoud. There’s a small shift in the balance of power toward the weak, exemplified by Naomi as she seeks atonement for her upbringing and for a life increasingly tainted by her family’s privilege. Essential to the plan to turn the tables on the Codringtons is Clarissa, their loyal housekeeper, who decides to help out Naomi though she’s shocked at the girl’s constant disrespect to her own father. Clarissa agrees with the plan only because she feels a solidarity with this tormented girl and resents her overbearing and arrogant stepmother. Into this mix comes desperate Faoud, who stands out from the others in the stor, perhaps because he meets such a tragic fate at the hands of the careless, shallow and rich.
From the opening pages, Osborne’s story is as mesmerizing as the sun-drenched Hydra landscapes. He journeys us farther and farther into the soul of this Mediterranean island while also taking us further from the normal markers of identity. The language is precise and lyrical in its descriptions of the island’s luminous settings and hallucinatory as we enter into the minds of Naomi, Sam, Faoud, Clarissa, and also Samuel Rockhold, who arrives on Hydra in search of Jimmy. Naomi, ever the smooth manipulator, sees Rockhold as nothing more than a “stranger with a glass eye.” Rockhold senses that Naomi knows more about her father and her stepmother’s whereabouts than she’s letting on.
A master temptress, Naomi is not always sure of her goals, but she sweeps onward like the beautiful criminal she is, unaware of the complexities of conscience. Sam shuffles along, trying to please Naomi, exploring the depths of her own heart. Handsome Faoud, escapes to Italy, only to be shocked at his crime and aa past identity that is no longer viable. Clarissa, a conniving blackmailer, proves to be just as opportunistic as Naomi. Osborne completely inserts us into his characters’ narrative and into the seductive, fiery landscapes of Hydra, a place that burns with the dubious art of murder.