After the slow motion collapse of her marriage Anne seeks refuge on the jagged island of Lanzarote, one of the Canary Islands off Africa.
Wounded, introspective, prickly – like the Drago tree of the title – Anne broods about her past, trying through writing in her notebook to exorcize the ghosts of her husband and troubled sister.
She meets the novelist Richard . He lives on the island seasonally, perched in his house as though at an outpost of progress, surrounded by artefacts made by the local potter Domingo. His plan to pluck bits of the islanders’ story from Domingo to use in his next book becomes, in Isobel Blackthorn’s hands, a parallel for robber cultures that plunder from others .
With Domingo and Richard, Anne explores Lanzarote, learning the unhappy story of its fragile population, the target of conquerors and pirates, and now of tourists. Anne both welcomes and distrusts Richard’s interest. He advances but exasperatingly retreats. Domingo just as infuriatingly holds his counsel. Unexpressed emotional forces heave beneath the surface, like the volcanic forces that shape the island. When they erupt it is in the form of their argument over tourism, whether it is ruin of the island or its salvation. This disagreement shifts the dynamic between the three, ultimately leading to a later plot twist.
A current running beneath the story of these three people is a meditation on the art of writing. Richard, seeing Anne’s notebook, thrust upon her his views as a professional writer. As Anne tests his critiques, expanding her notes, trying for her own voice, Blackthorn weaves them also into her novel, playing with them, taking us alongside the writing process at the same time as we are reading its results – this book. It’s a risk to skim along just inside the “fourth wall’ in this way but Blackthorn beautifully pulls it off. And when Anne confronts her ambiguous feelings about Richard, Blackthorn unexpectedly turns us further down the theme of exploitation, this time about where personal lives meet literature.
For readers who love layered levels of feeling and thought expressed in fine language, this is your novel.