Books·First Look

Anna Porter's latest novel is a psychological thriller set in cottage country — read an excerpt now

Gull Island will be available on Sept. 5, 2023. Read an excerpt now.

Gull Island will be available on Sept. 5, 2023

A portrait of a caucasian woman with blonde hair and a leopard scarf smiling at the camera.
Anna Porter is a Canadian publisher and novelist. (Mark Raynes Roberts)

Publisher and novelist Anna Porter's upcoming novel is the psychological thriller Gull Island.

When Jude's estranged father goes missing, she is persuaded by her mother to find his will. Jude makes her way to her family's cottage on the remote Gull Island to relive old memories but is shaken by what the discovers.

A book cover with a deck ladder leading into a lake where a red sweater is floating just below the surface.
Gull Island is a novel by Anna Porter. (Simon & Schuster Canada)

Searching thorough the neglected cottage triggers terrifying dreams and frightening memorise from her childhood. When a storm traps her on the island with no contact with the outside world, Jude is forced to come to terms with long-buried truths that threaten her sanity — and make her fear for her life. 

Porter was born in Budapest, Hungary, studied in New Zealand and began her publishing career in London, England, before moving to Ontario in the 1970s and working for publishing company McClelland & Stewart.

She is the author of several books including her nonfiction book Kasztner's Train, which won the 2007 Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize for Nonfiction, the memoir In Other Words: How I Fell in Love with Canada One Book at a Time and the novels Deceptions and The Appraisal

"I started writing Gull Island during a storm in Georgian Bay. It was COVID time and I was alone on the island where we have had a cottage for some 30 years," Porter told CBC Books via email.

"As the evening darkened, the waves crashed onto the shore, the boat smashed into the dock and I worried it would buck off its moorings and disappear, leaving me stranded. What with the thunder, the lightning strikes, and my growing sense of disorientation in otherwise familiar surroundings, I began to imagine terrifying scenes from what became Gull Island."

Gull Island will be published on Sept. 5, 2023. Read an excerpt below.

I had driven up fast. When I set out from the city, it was still dark. There were not many cars on the highway. Dawn breaking as I turned off the 400. No one had removed the dead animals from the side road to Honey Harbour yet. There was a young raccoon, bloody teeth bared, its chest squashed, arms pawing the air, and a large snapper, its house smashed, its guts strewn across the road. Too much night traffic. But not even one car now.

It was quiet at the marina. I couldn't see the Limestone, though that was usually the boat they took out of winter storage first. The Hunt, a much smaller boat, had been left for me at the main loading dock. There was no one else at the docks, at the pump, or on the veranda of Jim's cottage. Perhaps the guys who ran the place for him had been told to take the rest of the week off. They were usually cheerful and friendly, offering to haul the bags to the boat, making rude
comments about my city garb, offering to come and keep me company in the evening while I waited for the rest of our family to arrive. I was not used to silence at the marina.

When I set out from the city, it was still dark. There were not many cars on the highway. Dawn breaking as I turned off the 400. No one had removed the dead animals from the side road to Honey Harbour yet.

When I headed out, it seemed to me that the Hunt was the only boat on the lake. Perhaps April was too early for other people to be this far north. There was a chill in the air. The ice had barely gone out, and the birds that wintered in the South had not yet arrived. When my hand touched the water as I tied the boat up to our dock, it was painfully cold.

The cottage, too, was strangely quiet. In the old days it had always been noisy. Kids running and shouting, Gina doing her ridiculous exercises on the dock, country music or opera wailing away inside, the men chopping wood or repairing the roof, or moving rocks to make an easier path into the water. Sammy had been quite useful, then, and James to my surprise, had fitted in with the rest of the family. Years ago, there used to be a lot of bellowing and even some laughter. My mother would try to relax, read, or give strident orders to complete some task we had been putting off. The last time I was here, though, there had already been too much silence.

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Since I hadn't come to the cottage often then, when I did, I was aware of the overall gloom, the sadness that had settled on the place. Mother spent most of the time in her room, gazing at the birdfeeders, her book lying unread on the bed. She left all the cooking to Gina and me. I knew I couldn't face the ghosts of summers past.

I carried my bags up to the deck — I had brought up only two bottles of wine, because I hadn't expected to stay long — and placed them carefully at the glass doors while I hunted for the key.

It wasn't under the small rock where we usually hid it after we locked up at the end of the season. Hardly surprising, given the winter snowdrifts, the strong winds that had blown down some of our roof tiles and broken branches off our one remaining ash tree. While I scrabbled around among the musty, dead leaves, I thought I heard something scuttling toward the cabins. Maybe a squirrel or a chipmunk, but I saw nothing when I stood up. Still no key. I searched under the steps, no key, and nothing on the big nail where Gina preferred to hang it.

We had fought about that.

We did not have the warmest relationship, my sister and I, but we rarely engaged in open combat. It was more of a standoff. We knew each other too well for prolonged battles, but toward the end of that gloomy summer two years ago, we had allowed ourselves to express the anger we both felt — at least, I know I felt — but had kept under control. I found it oddly liberating.

We did not have the warmest relationship, my sister and I, but we rarely engaged in open combat. It was more of a standoff.

We argued about a whole lot of subjects we had avoided before. Mother's choice of a condo and how long she would be able to stay there, Scoop's ashes, Father's mansion, Gladys, Eva, and why she kept showing up (Gina was sure that she still hankered after our father, and I was equally sure that she was secretly gay and in love with our mother). Gina suggested once that Eva had something on our parents, a secret they didn't want her to reveal. (I thought that was ridiculous; if she had some sort of hold over them, she would cash it in, not take it in time spent at the cottage.)

We argued even about little things like cleaning the place and who left dishes out the last time. Everything except William. I stayed quiet when she talked about him.

Excerpted from Gull Island by Anna Porter. Published by Simon and Schuster Canada. Copyright © 2023. All rights reserved.

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