An Island Inside-Out
An Island Inside-Out is a novel published in 1954 by Western Bookbinders of Cernatia. It was written by Emetïl Darqot and inspired by a childhood visit to his father -who was a sailor at the time- stationed at King's Cape of Storms U-boat facility during the Gasoline War (aka Second World War).
The novel opens with a man happily corresponding with his therapist whom he affectionately calls "Priest". It is apparent that he was recently released from a psychological observation program in which he seems to have been for most if not all of his adult life. He is living alone in a small apartment above the general store serving Barn, a small village in the shadow of Mt. Cernat, having acquired a job sorting fish on the docks so he can "watch the shipping pass" through the Straits of Leilid.
Exposed in a series of flashbacks via the letters, we learn that "G" -short for Giuseppe- was born to a Catholic woman from Vicenza (but herself raised in Palizzi Marina, Calabria). She had immigrated to the USA and was a volunteer on an ocean liner serving in a convoy ferrying medical supplies during the Battle of the Atlantic. When the ship was torpedoed and sunk she survived and was rescued by the crew of an Italian U-boat which had been shadowing their German allies and learning tactics of the wolfpack. Unlike their Teutonic counterparts, the Italians had no standing orders to refuse rescue of survivors. She was pregnant and near to term when she boarded the submarine.
"G" was born a week later, near the end of December, 1939. Further letters present a series of vignettes demonstrating his life on the sub for the war's duration. Danger lurks outside the boat and he imagines the groans of the pressurized hull to be the voice of the monsters beyond, in the infinite ocean.
When war ends he has trouble adjusting to life on land. He feels exposed, suffering under a crippling agoraphobia until he is hospitalized following a suicide attempt. His psychiatrist, "Priest", asks him why he tried to drown himself in the ocean and discovers G suffers from delusions. He had walked into the ocean in an attempt to get back aboard Isola, the submarine that had been his home.
The doctor is replaced after his superiors learn he has decided to encourage the young man in his fantasies as a form of therapy to allow him to "move about undetected" in the world. G undergoes various treatments including shock therapy, medication, etc; all of which push him to near total psychosis. In a final act of desperation, "Priest" is allowed to return to the hospital and resume his techniques.
Together, G and Priest extrapolate and develop his fantasies, including that his hospital room is in fact his old bunk aboard ship, and that the submarine has been enlarged to accommodate more people, buildings, landscapes, and even a sea inside. G's submarine safe haven becomes coterminous with the "real" world and the doctor explains to his peers that he has taught G to "open" the sub like a tin can cut along its side and flipped inside out. And as an added benefit: all of the dangers external to the submarine are now contained, so to speak, in the enclosed skin of the exterior-cum-interior of the inside-out submarine.
- Succession of psychotherapy and therapist to the role formerly held by the Church (Catholic in particular) and priests. As evidenced by the names G applies to the various medical staff at the hospital: e.g. chaplain, "new priests", novitiate, confessor, etc.
- The relationship between dreams/reality; lucid dreaming
- Psychogeographic space
Critics have condemned the book for serious alleged flaws such as how a child could survive, let alone be permitted to live aboard, a vessel of war. Survivors were typically deposited at any port where the submarines refuel or to passing friendly ships. German subs, indeed, were under strict orders not to rescue survivors whatsoever.
In a letter-response to one particularly harsh magazine review, Darqot wrote only: "What is the point of fiction if we cannot suppose fiction?"
In a follow-up interview years later, the author explained that "...at that time in my life it was all I could do to pry loose the novel from my mind. Certain realities had to be thrown out of hand in order to start writing. Too much realism can suffocate the ideas before they are born, like a baby choked by the umbilical before ever she leaves the womb."