Despite one of the characters questioning the necessity of following a clear linear narrative, Archipelago does have one. Based in part on the ‘Philomena Myth’, the story is merely a vehicle to convey underlying themes - with varying styles for each chapter, mimetically corresponding to different environmental factors of the islands in the Galápagos Archipelago. This abstraction echoes the variegated nature of each of us in our communities, towns and islands.
The novel is book-ended by prologue and epilogue, functioning to draw the reader into an apparently prosaic world of one ordinary day in the lives of four people. These are as follows: Stephen Rei, junior sub-editor of an international publishing house; Philomena Cordova, émigré from the Galápagos Islands; Suzel King, micro-biologist and Philomena’s step-sister; and Parveen Pattni, who works in her father’s newsagents.
It begins one October 1998 Saturday morning, with suggestion that Stephen and Philomena are aiming to meet on this day, but this is deception. In reality Philomena begins a lengthy ‘Joycean’ odyssey through the town, during which she meets Parveen, ruminates on her past, experiences the maelstrom of mercantile life, writes a short poem, and contemplates the nature of language. The day ends wickedly, with Terry King (Suzel’s husband) raping her.
Stephen discovers a body on a train and Philomena is complicit in this (as revealed in the novel’s dénouement) for the body is Terry.