Archive for The Island

The Island

Posted in Books with tags , , on April 14, 2010 by richardblandford

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.