This is the sequel to Victoria Hislop’s highly successful novel ‘The Island‘, which chronicles the experiences of a young woman sent to Spinalonga, the leper colony off the coast of Crete. I like this novel, although not without reservations – I read it for a second time in 2018.
‘One August Night‘ is supposedly the story of what happens after a cure for leprosy is discovered and the residents of Spinalonga return to their island communities. Two key characters in ‘The Island‘ are sisters Anna and Maria; Maria had contracted leprosy and been exiled to Spinalonga. Anna, meanwhile, engages in a passionate extra-marital affair with Manoli and gives birth to a daughter, Sofia.
During the island celebrations for the return of its villagers from Spinalonga, Anna is murdered. Someone is convicted of the crime and jailed, whilst her lover takes off to start a new life. I hoped that the novel would pick up Maria’s story and address how she adapts to life after Spinalonga, but instead it spins along-a (see what I did there?!) different storyline.
This whole book feels like a wasted opportunity. Having invested a considerable amount into the development of Maria’s character and circumstances in ‘The Island‘, there was a rich seam of material to be mined in a sequel. Instead, leprosy and its consequences are virtually ignored in favour of a bizarre exploration of Manoli’s new life and Maria’s prison visits to the murderer. The plot is weak, disjointed and uninteresting, as are the majority of the characters. There was very little to hold my interest and I struggled to finish the novel at all. I can’t help thinking that if this had been a submission to an agent from an unknown new author, it would have either gone in the ‘Reject’ pile or been published after several major edits. As it is, Victoria Hislop has seen another bestseller hit the shelves.
For me, Ms Hislop was drinking in the last chance saloon and I’m afraid she’s blown it. Nothing she has written since ‘The Island‘ has equalled it, despite my fervent hoping. Having read every single thing she’s produced afterwards, desperately looking for the same emotional connection I felt with Alexis, Eleni and Maria initially, nothing has been as good. I was very excited when a friend lent me ‘One August Night‘. When I’d finished, I was even more glad. Because if I’d wasted £12.99 of my own money on a copy, I’d have been gutted.
I still send postcards when I go on holiday. They’ve rather gone out of fashion with the advent of social media, but I’ve always liked them. As a child, I collected the ones sent from afar by a pilot friend of the family, and even now I cherish a collection of vintage ones depicting UK lighthouses. So Victoria Hislop’s most recent bestseller ‘Cartes Postales from Greece’ appealed to my love of the picture postcard.
The storyline is attractive. Postcards from Greece keep arriving at Ellie’s flat. She knows they aren’t for her, but the images and messages intrigue her. She plans a holiday to Greece to discover its magic for herself, and just as she is leaving for her trip, a notebook arrives in the post, addressed to the same recipient as the postcards and bearing the same simple signature. Just ‘A’. The notebook gradually reveals how A. rebuilds his life after a failed love affair. He travels through Greece and each section of the book is a ‘postcard’, a short story with accompanying photographs. As Ellie nears the end of the notebook, she cannot resist the temptation to track down its owner, and return the journal to him.
On the plus side, I like books with pictures. If I pick up a biography I usually flick to the middle to peruse those few glossy pages which accentuate the life story. On the negative side, this is a strange book, despite the promising premise. The short stories are unconnected to one another, and apart from one very creepy one about a young couple whose car breaks down in a deserted village, unrewarding. A’s cathartic journey is simply a washing line on which to hang all these wet rags, and it doesn’t work well. The ending of the book is twee and contrived, trying too hard to please.
I’ve read everything Victoria Hislop has written, but this was a disappointment. If you’ve never read her before, don’t start with this. If you are a fan, I wonder what you’ll make of ‘Cartes Postales’. Answers on a postcard, please…..