For Dante hell was a series of descending circles, for Sartre it was a room without exit, for Stig Dagerman it is a deserted island on which seven shipwrecked survivors find themselves stranded waiting for death. They have no food and no prospect of finding any. The last of their water has been dumped in the sand and the only other water on the island is in a poisonous lake where a strange fish attacks anything that comes near. They are surrounded by iguanas and carrion eating birds waiting for them to die. There are seven of them, but they are each isolated in their own private angst. They are on the Island of the Doomed.
Written in the summer of 1946 while Dagerman was staying, appropriately enough, at a writing cabin once belonging to the author of The Ghost Sonata and Miss Julie, August Strindberg, Island of the Doomed is a novel as dark and macabre as any of the work of the great playwright. It is a nightmare vision of the human condition best compared with the novels of a writer like Kafka. It comes as no surprise to the book's readers that Dagerman, in spite of a hugely successful writing career, took his own life in 1954. This is not a book written by a man who finds much in this life to be cheerful about.
The book is divided into two sections. The first part consists of seven chapters taking the reader chronologically through a day beginning at dawn and running to night. Each is devoted to one of the individuals, five men and two women: a bank clerk, a boxer, an airman, a captain, a giant of a man, an English girl and an older woman. It describes their character and tells something about their lives. The second part deals with their last day (which may or may not be the same day) on the island as they wait for the inevitable end. Narrative is kept to a minimum; the author is much more concerned with the individuals and their inability to connect with each other in any meaningful way. Even in extremity, perhaps especially in extremity, they are unable to escape the existential loneliness that is man's fate.