Review: The Penal Colony

The Penal Colony - Richard Herley

Originally read February 6, 2014


This wasn’t a bad book but, after reading the high praise from several other reviews, I think I must have missed that “special something” that made this book stand out for other people.  The story is centered on a man who, imprisoned for a murder he didn’t commit, is dropped off by a helicopter on an island-based penal colony.  Nobody else inhabits the island except for other prisoners who were put there because they were the worst of the worst.


There are some worthwhile themes in this book.  The ingenuity of the characters in surviving and improving their lives under harsh conditions without modern comforts is impressive.  The book also deals somewhat with the folly of prejudice and judgmental attitudes toward others.  However, these themes are hardly unique to this book.  The premise sounded interesting, and the story did hold some interest for me, but it didn’t grab me strongly.  I also never really warmed up to any of the characters.


I don’t think this book aged well.  I hadn’t been reading very long before I started to wonder, “When was this book written?!”  I was actually surprised when I looked it up and saw that it had been written as recently as 1987.  I think it was mostly the attitudes of the characters that made the book feel dated to me.  I think this is also the reason why I didn’t warm up to the characters.  The main character was quite prejudiced, particularly earlier on in the story, and he also came across as having a naiveté that I found annoying.  Although the book shifted focus to other characters occasionally, the majority of the book was written from the point of view of this one character.  There were some other characters that seemed interesting, but we never really got to know them very well.


The ending felt rushed, and it lacked the level of detail that was given to the events leading up to the ending.  It was easy to predict how things would turn out from early on in the book, so the ending really needed to go above and beyond the expected events.  I wanted it to describe things in more detail and tell us more about how things worked out for the various characters.