As the twentieth century draws to a close, a ship heads for Punta Arenas on the Straits of Magellan at Chile's southern tip. On board is Oliver Griffin, a man on an unusual quest. His journey is inspired by a photograph of his grandparents embracing a strange automaton which now resides in the Punta Arenas museum. This fearsome metal warrior is a sixteenth-century robot, a relic of a proposed mechanical army, commissioned by Philip II of Spain to guard the strait against the English.
The automaton was discovered on Desolation Island by a grieving woman scouring the archipelago for the bodies of her shipwrecked husband and son. Griffin has long been fascinated by this place, where the Magellan Strait meets the Pacific, and spends his life drawing intricate maps of the island.
With a host of characters both real and imaginary, touches of Homer, Melville and Sebald, Desolation Island sets countless stories spinning around its central axis the extraordinary automaton. Taking in sixteenth-century wizardry, court politics, the modern shipping industry, the cinematic version of The Invisible Man and personal letters and family photographs, this mesmerising, original novel is a testament to man's insatiable desire for knowledge.
Spanning four full centuries of adventure, Desolation Island is a classic seafaring tale, striking at the heart of that eternal mystery: our obsession with the sea, as terrible as it is irresistible.