Haven by Emma Donaghue takes place in 7th-century Ireland and imagines the discovery of a craggy island off the coast of Ireland that is known today as Skellig Michael.
When Artt, a respected scholar and priest, visits the Cluain Mhic Nóis monastery along the Shannon River, he is disgusted by the lavish lifestyle there. One night he has a vision to leave the sinful world behind and search for an isolated place to build a new church. Artt recruits two monks to go along with him, young and inexperienced Trian and weathered, old Cormac. Art makes the monks pledge obedience to him, becoming their new Prior, and the three set out in a small boat with only a few essential supplies. Drifting into the Atlantic, they eventually come upon an incredibly steep, rocky island that is only inhabited by thousands of birds. Artt claims it for God and insists that is where they will stay.
In the early days of disembarking, the monks are buoyed by faith, and they set about finding a water supply, eager to make the island habitable. Artt, however, does not worry about food and shelter, and redirects them to carve crosses out of the rock, build a church, and transcribe manuscripts, insisting that God will provide. Soon, though, supplies have run out, and Artt refuses to let the monks return to civilization to replenish them. Artt’s fanaticism and the obedience he seeks from the men begin to wear on the health of them and they begin to question their faith and their place on this uninhabitable rock. How will these men survive with only faith to guide them?
Though it is filled with emotional intensity, this quiet and haunting, slow-moving novel won’t be for all readers, but like all of Emma Donoghue’s novels, it is masterfully written and absorbing. This reader cannot stop thinking about this book about blind faith and fanaticism. Pick up Haven, slow down your world, and be transported to a truly unique time and place.