Today i’m delighted to have Bryony Pearce on my blog talking about her brilliant new book, Savage Island. My review will be going up later this week. Happy reading!
How I intended Savage Island to be a myth of id vs ego
By Bryony Pearce
There is nothing more fun for me than spotting a theme, clever motif or lovely piece of subtext in a novel that makes me realise that something deeper is going on. I feel that it gives me a bond with the author, that I can say – “I see what you were doing there, I spotted it. I’m on your level!”
That’s one reason I read English Literature at university. I adore picking novels apart and finding those puzzle pieces that make you think, ‘wow, this author had so much more to say’.
And that is why I love to write novels that have layers; that can be read as straight up adventure stories, or which can be looked at as something else.
Horror is a genre that particularly lends itself to hidden themes and motifs. Look at Buffy the Vampire Slayer (and if you’re too young to have watched this series first time round, then immediately go out and binge watch it – you won’t regret it), which is widely acknowledged to contain dozens of metaphors for the experience of being a teenager going into adulthood (for example, high school as hell and most of the demons Buffy fights – if the writers want to show Buggy struggling with lust, they create a lust demon for her to defeat).
Savage Island contains its own subtext. This is the battle between id and superego and the importance of balancing the two. To be effective, to survive and keep your humanity, you can’t be paralysed by superego, nor can you be dehumanised by id. I feel that as a culture, we have slipped too far towards id (what we can get, what we are owed, I know my rights vs I know what’s right) and that as a result we are losing our humanity. This requires discussing.
According to Freud, the id, ego and superego work together in creating behaviour.
The id is the most basic part of the personality and wants instant gratification for our wants and needs:
I am hungry, that homeless man has a chocolate bar in his back pocket. He looks weak. I will take and eat it.
The ego adds the needs of reality:
I am hungry, that homeless man has a chocolate bar in his back pocket. He looks weak. But there are lots of people watching, so I will wait until I can get to a café and eat there.
The superego adds a level of morality
I am hungry, but that homeless man over there has only a chocolate bar to eat. He looks weak. I will go to the café, buy a meal and take it out to give to him.
(That’s a basic explanation of id, ego and superego and I’m sure an expert can tell me how I have it wrong!)
The representation of ID in Savage Island is multi-layered.
There is of course the basic instinct to survive: this appears in all the characters, obviously, but while some are fighting to live, others are fighting to WIN. They want the £1million and are willing to do anything to get it.
I think of these characters as dogs. A domestic pet faced with a survival situation (starvation, abuse) might turn on its owner, bite a child or savage a friend. These ‘domestic predators’, Curtis and Reece (and a few others who appear in the course of the book), are driven by id, (their need to win). But they know that what they are doing is wrong. In the story, their instinct is stronger than their moral compass, but when they get off the island, they will likely be haunted by what they have done. They’re guys you might like, under other circumstances.
The other representation of ID in Savage Island is another kind of predator. This is the leopard, who lies in wait, hidden, then pounces. He is the psychopath.
A psychopath, according to Freud has no superego, the psychopath will take whatever he wants, whenever he wants and feel that he is in the right. There will never be any guilt. Only practicality (ego) keeps him under control.
So, our characters are faced with (metaphorical) dogs and leopards: characters who do the wrong thing reluctantly and characters who do the wrong thing with gleeful abandon.
And of course, as well as facing these predatory characters, they have their own internal battles between id and superego (represented most clearly by the choice each has to make at the end).
The team itself is an entity made up of five parts. Ben is the SUPEREGO, he argues for the right thing all the time:
“You’re really ok with cheating, Lizzie?”
“Think of something else!”
“Lizzie’s on her own out there!”
“You still think we should go for the money?”
Grady is the ID:
“I can’t function without sugar”
“We should be on our way to the third checkpoint by now.
“If no-one completes the geocache challenge, they might just give the money to the people who get to the end in the fastest time.”
“I don’t want to go out there.”
Even Grady’s motive for taking part in the competition is selfish: while the others want the money for sensible, or altruistic reasons (for university, to pay off a sick parent’s mortgage, to become a vet), he is a conspiracy theorist who wants to share his ideas with the world.
If we kept going and won, I could study civil engineering, Carmen could go to vet school, Lizzie could pay off her parents’ mortgage and her own uni fees, Will could start his working life without debt and Grady … well, he could entertain the lunatic fringe by exposing the world’s conspiracies.
The other team members fall on the spectrum between Ben and Grady. Their leader, Lizzie, is most clearly the EGO: balancing need with morality and coming up with practical solutions. She’s willing to do the immoral thing if it gets her what she wants and doesn’t hurt anyone else (“For a million pounds, are you kidding?”), but always prefers to do the right thing when possible.
The reason the team does not end up like the other ‘domestic predator’ characters, is that their superego (Ben) has such influence on their leader (or head).
Then there is the internal war that each character has between his or her own id and superego. Each has a need to survive and a desire to win that must balance with what they know is right.
Internal battles are going on all the time, represented most clearly in Carmen, who at different points in the story is wholly given over to id (taking drugs as one example of her behaviour) or completely superego (she is, at one point, literally paralysed by her own conscience): “I’m going to hell.”
On another level, there is the savage island itself, which can be utterly beautiful, or completely terrifying. The island has literal peaks and troughs (mountains and dark caves): physical representations of the id and superego. When the team is fighting the domestic predators and proving themselves on the side of the superego, they are literally at the highest point of the island. Then they are forced to descend from the highest peak to the lowest point, where their id is most sorely tempted.
Ultimately, Lizzie’s team is meant to represent the reader.
I wanted the book to make you ask at every point ‘what would I do?’.
Would you side with Id, or Superego?
What would you do to survive?
Don’t forget to check out the other dates on the tour and pick up a copy asap.