Having read and not particularly enjoyed Victoria Hislop’s most recent offering ‘Cartes Postales from Greece‘, I decided to remind myself how good she actually is, by re-visiting ‘The Island’. The fact that we were going to Crete, where the novel is set, made the idea more appealing.
Spinalonga is a leper colony, an island off the north-east coast of Crete. Those diagnosed with leprosy are exiled from their communities, linked only by regular visits from the boatman and two doctors. Eleni is a teacher in the village of Plaka, which overlooks Spinalonga. When she and a young pupil, Dimitri, are diagnosed with the dreaded disease, they both know they will have to say goodbye to their homes and families. Leaving behind her young daughters, Anna and Maria, Eleni is rowed across the water to Spinalonga by Georgiou.
The novel follows the fate of Eleni, Anna and Maria and the residents of Spinalonga. Their story comes to light when Alexa, Eleni’s great-granddaughter, is drawn back to Crete to unravel her mother’s past.
The first time I read ‘The Island’ I cried a lot. When we read, I don’t think we can help internalising the experiences of the characters and relating them to our own lives. So I imagined having to leave my daughter while I was carted off to an island. Heartbreaking. Leprosy doesn’t sound like a bundle of laughs, either. Then a war comes along and one of your kids marries the wrong guy and ends up sleeping with his cousin. It was all very moving.
But on this re-read, presumably because I knew the story, I was able to concentrate more on the style and the plot devices, the latter being almost identical to that of ‘Cartes Postales‘. And the book lost a lot of its appeal. The prose is sentimental and not that clever, the plot becomes more unbelievable the further in you get, especially the [SPOILER ALERT] body count at the end. It just didn’t grab me in the same way as it had the first time.
‘The Island’ is a hugely successful novel which was published in 2006 and there are probably not that many bookworms who haven’t already read it. I do recommend it, if you like an absorbing family saga with a Mediterranean setting, rooted in history. But once is probably enough!