The Island

It was a Christmas present.

Despite being an absolutely enormous hit, there’s something about Victoria Hislop’s The Island that no one seems to have noticed. This being, that it’s completely barking bad. This perhaps shouldn’t come as much as a shock, winner as it was by the Richard and Judy Summer Read Competition. After all, their viewers have yet to notice that Richard Madeley is also completely barking mad.

It’s a Frankenstein’s Monster of a book, with the history of the Spinalonga leper colony off of Crete in the middle years of the last century brutally welded on to a family melodrama beach-read involving sibling rivalry, adultery and, oh yes, leprosy. Also thrown into the mix is a bit of World War II and a truly ludicrous framing device in which a twenty-something woman seeks to resolve her romantic dilemma by seeking inspiration through the uncovering of her family’s secret leper past.

There’s a lot wrong with The Island. The plot, which is just about visible if you stand at a distance, often builds to anti-climaxes, such as a rampaging mob who plan to attack the leper colony, only to be talked out of it. They threaten to come back, but don’t. So that’s all right then.

Hislop, meanwhile, has a tin ear for a beautiful phrase, so we’re confronted with sentences like this (and on page one too), ‘How different that would make it from the ancient palaces and sites she had spent the past few weeks, months – even years – visiting.’ She’s been visiting the sites for years. That’s the information that needs to be conveyed, so why bring weeks and months into it? Oh dear.

The characters are flat, good or bad simply because they are, and what motivations they have are laid out for the reader the moment that they become a factor in the story. I don’t think there’s a single thing inferred, or left open to interpretation in the entire book. If I didn’t know better, I’d assume that Hislop thinks her readers might be a bit thick.

Despite all this, however, the sheer ridiculousness of the exercise means that The Island isn’t an unlikable book. It’s not really a story about characters so much as one about a community, although I’m not sure that it knows this. In a way, it reminded me of John Cowper Powys’s Weymouth Sands, an even stranger book written by a very strange man.

Indeed, I can’t help wishing that rather than being the work of a travel journalist wife of a well-connected media type, The Island was written by a dotty lady resident of a bed and breakfast on Eastbourne seafront. It isn’t, but one can dream.

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6 Responses to “The Island”

  1. It’s not quite true that nobody has noticed that it’s barking bad…

  2. If you want me to actually bother checking my facts, I’m going to have to make this blog a subscription-only service.

  3. Olivia Barnes Says:

    This book just pissed me off.
    I couldn’t tell what language the heroine was speaking with the locals. If her mother practically denied her Greekness would the heroine have learned Greek? Would the villagers have spoken English?

  4. Fortunately, all characters were fluent in esperanto.

  5. yuri_nahl Says:

    Comrade, imagine a photo with Karl Lagerfeld with his hand extended as if saluting the Fuhrer.

    I knew it! Someone yelled “Sieg Heil”! And look what happened. I told someone “I think he was outside my crib, trying to conceal a machine pistol” but they wouldn’t believe me! Just because I said he looked like the archetype of the “Night of the Living Dead” characters. I mean, if you look outside the window of your crib and you see a bunch of raccoons coming towards your pad in a manner that is “inexorable” (sort of like the Red Army T-34s for their appointment with the Fuhrer) and you say “My God! Is it a ‘Night of the Living Dead’ of raccoons?” Then in a moment of transcendent insight you think “I’m hallucinating again. Mama must have put a few hits of acid in my night time milk I have , in order to drive me crazy, so I kill myself and she inherits Papas’ fortune, which he left to me because she was such a slut , she would turn tricks for free!” Then in an integral part of the experience, the mist is forming and lit by the glow of the raccoons eyes (because they have that reflective eye membrane thing going) your heart trembles and out there you see the white haired ghost! (not the one in “The Da Vinci Code) The only white haired ghost in the world who wears sun-glasses in the middle of the night ostensibly because if the police come and see him leading a pack of criminally inclined raccoons, he can say “I’m blind. That’s why I’m wearing these sunglasses. ” Then when the police say “What are you doing with all these raccoons?” He could say “I’m like the ‘Pied Piper, except I pipe on raccoons.” Then when the police say “Well you are not headed out of town!” He can say “Well I’m blind! How was I to know?” “Know?” you might say. That’s like knowing why in these old movies, why the heroin chick is always taking such a deep breath and her knockers are bulging out of her shirt , and you’re waiting for them to burst free and dangle out for your viewing pleasure, but they don’t.
    At times like these, you have to get a grip on yourself and after you gulp down some port to bolster your will, you look out the window again, and only see one raccoon, and no white ghost wearing sunglasses, a Knights’ Cross (with swords and oak leaves), a Josef Goebbels hand brace, and there’s only one raccoon. So you send your world renowned black Afghan dog, Momo to chase off interlopers, but he knows the raccoon and they just talk about times gone past.
    In the morning ,you go outside and everything is back to normal, till you notice a Walther P-38 lying on the ground with a sort of stylized skeleton key engraved on it, and the word “Leibstandarte.” It’s an unsettling thing, and you hope the gardener left it there, after all he does carry a riding crop, wear jodhpurs all the time and a monocle , or “sun-monocle on sunny days.

  6. Yes, you’re right!

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