Book Review on Victoria Hislop's The Island
Victoria Hislop's The Island is her debut book, set on a fictional Greek island both pre-war and during the Second World War. The story begins with Alexis Fielding who, at a cross-roads in her own young life, wants to find out about her mother, Sofia's secret past.
Before heading off to Greece, Sofia gives Alexis a letter addressed to an old friend of hers, Fontina. It is Fontina, the best friend of Alexis's grandmother, Maria, who is able to provide many of the answers to the questions that Sofia had never been willing to answer.
There follows the telling of Alexis's family history. Both Alexis's grandmother and great-grandmother had caught leprosy and had been banished to the island of Spinalonga, a colony where all leprosy sufferers were sent. The novel reveals what life was like both on the colony, and for the family members of those who have been sent. The link between the island and the mainland, is Girogis, Maria's husband, who took provisions to and from the island.
Victoria Hislop presents Spinalonga as a place of far more hope than the reader might initially expect. The island is a place of love as well as death. Entertainment and industry flourish and people prosper, especially after the arrival of the lepers sent from Athens. Spinalonga is a place that people dread to go to, but once there, don't necessarily want to leave.
The novel heads toward a conclusion as a cure for leprosy is found and the islanders are free to leave. There is though one more dramatic twist that prevents a 'happy ever after' ending. Read more about the novel here.
Book club questions on Victoria Hislop's The Island
Book club questions on Victoria Hislop's The Island (if you haven't read the book!)
Personal Response to Victoria Hislop's The Island
I wasn't sure whether I would enjoy The Island or not. Love affairs, ending in tragedy; boring, but rich husbands; unreliable lovers; wild daughter and loyal daughters - it all seemed a heady romantic mix and family saga, that I wasn't sure was my cup of tea.
The structure was brave and accessible so that was good. The opening of Alexis travelling, provided a good reason for telling the story of her mother. To my mind, the development of Sofia's teen years were a little rushed. And, while I didn't bother to calculate the dates it seemed odd that Fontina was still in such good health, running her cafe, when both Maria and Kyritsis had died.
There were parts of the tale that I ddin't find completely convincing (spoiler alert), the shooting for example, was a bit too melodramatic for my stiff-upper lip British sensibilities. However, putting crimes of passion aside, I thought it was a good first novel.