Elspeth Baillie, a young Scottish actress, is chosen by enigmatic impresario Lord Coak for an acting career on the Island of Barbados. At first feted by the colonial gentry, her life in the Caribbean does not go according to plan. Elspeth is obliged to take on a temporary and ambiguous role in the closed world of Coak’s remote sugar plantation. Dolan’s plot is full of unexpected twists as Elspeth becomes ever more a prisoner of a venture whose founding principle is white supremacy. Captain Shaw, the factor, sets about building a New Caledonia that brings Elspeth and her compatriots nothing but a sense of timelessness and loss. A series of catastrophic events and rash historical mistakes finally breaks the cycle.
Elspeth is left trying to make sense of her own life and youthful ambitions among a shipwrecked people dreaming of home. Linguistically rich and narratively hypnotic, Dolan’s novel asks what makes a Nation. Bloodlines? Language? History? Or some ideal for the future? Elspeth’s hopes for a new world, full of drama and passion, collides with the all too real drama and elusive loves of colonial life.