The Island

The Island
by Victoria Hislop

Publisher: Headline

I’m not a fan of family sagas. However, when a friend gave me The Island by Victoria Hislop, the wife of the humorous Ian Hislop of Private Eye and the TV programme Have I got News for You, I thought I’d give it a shot.

Unfortunately, by the time I’d read it that was what I wanted to do to myself.

For a start, I’m one of those people who read a lot into a title and as such “The Island” is about as riveting as “The Dishcloth” or the “The Floor Mop.” In fact, the only way a title like that could be interesting would be if it was written by Stephen King or James Herbert in which case I’d be anticipating mummified rats and zombies crawling out of an ancient island crypt. Now that would be riveting.

Unfortunately, there were no mummies in this book but there were plenty of picturesque settings, strong silent types and raven haired beauties. (Groan.)

Not being a connoisseur of beach books, as The Island is described on its cover, I’m guessing these are the standard ingredients of a such novels; a sort of literary version of Dallas or Dynasty. Only in this case without the fun bits.

Well alright, it wasn’t that bad. In fact, it started off quite well on the premise that the young, beautiful Alexis (Hmm…those Dynasty overtones again) travels to Crete to uncover her past and discovers that her great grandmother was incarcerated on the leper island colony of Spinalonga. Subsequently, the tale travels back in time and we learn the full story of Eleni and her daughters, Maria and Anna. The eldest daughter, Anna, escapes her lowly upbringing by marrying into a wealthy family but risks everything by having an affair with her husband’s cousin. The younger daughter, Maria, contracts leprosy and like her mother is confined to Spinalonga.

The ingredients were all present to make this book a really good read but I felt the yeast was missing and it just fell flat. Considering leprosy and adultery were the two main themes of the book one might have expected some explosive moments. But that simply didn’t happen; emotions were kept under wraps, characters never fully explored and dramatic moments curtailed. Some characters and plot lines just fizzled out when there was the potential for some juicy confrontational moments. For example, when Anna’s husband finally challenges her about her adultery he shoots her and it is all done in about a page! He then runs off, as does the adulterous cousin and they have barely a mention in the rest of the book. Bah humbug! I’m lodging a formal complaint with The Plot Police.

Oh well, I’ve started ranting, I might as well continue. I found some of the plot tediously predictable. For instance, the doctor working on a cure for leprosy falls in love with Maria but manages to cure her before she succumbs to disfigurement. How dull is that? Wouldn’t it have been more interesting if she had been disfigured? Or maybe the doctor could have quit medicine and become a car dealer or a priest or for real excitement he could have fallen on his own hypodermic syringe and killed himself. Whoopee!

In all seriousness, I felt the issues surrounding prejudice caused by disease and disfigurement could have been explored to a much greater depth. The ending too was quite dissatisfying as in the opening chapters we were led to believe the revelations would help Alexis make a momentous life changing decision. Unfortunately, this turns out to be merely dumping her boyfriend which you could pretty much guess was going to happen anyway. It might have been more satisfying if it had been revealed that Alexis or her boyfriend had a life threatening condition like Aids. Then there would have been the scope to examine whether or not attitudes to potentially contagious and fatal afflictions have changed since the days of Spinalonga.

So after reading 473 pages, some of them surplus to the plot, I just felt cheated. However, I’m a great believer that every book has a secondary purpose. For example, Tom Cruise’s biographies make the perfect platforms for reaching the top shelf, War and Peace makes a good door stopper and The Island is a great cure for insomnia because every time I picked it up I just…….



Stella said...

Poor Victoria. You stripped her down to the bone, Jane.

I'm still chuckling over the mummified rats bit. If I ever finish a book/screenplay, I promise I'll try to make the title interesting - or maybe I'll compensate with vampires. Are those alright? I've never been big on zombies or mummies ;)

gary davison said...

This one won't be going on my reading list! Great review, Jane, love your style.

Jane Turley said...

Great Stella! I look forward a rip roaring rollercoaster of a read! Vampires will do just great - although a few suitably distressed raven haired beauties wouldn't go amiss.

( Dead ones obviously.)

Cheers Gary! I haven't decided what book to review next but I do have a copy of Sophie Kinsella's "Remember Me"......

Hmmm... I thinking that could be a dangerous title.


Anonymous said...

I enjoyed your review, the only bone I would pick is that you didn't come to read it with an open mind.
You expected not to like it and the book lived up to that expectation. I wonder if the outcome would have been different if you were handed a manuscript with no title?
I havn't read it yet but its the next pick of my book group so fingers crossed it doesn't send me to sleep!