Lynley's Reviews > The Island

The Island by Victoria Hislop
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's review
Sep 10, 12

did not like it
Read from August 28 to 31, 2012

** spoiler alert ** If this were made into a movie it might look a bit like Titanic, with its book-ends structure, and the old woman relaying a sad tale through romanticised lenses to a younger person who's new on the scene.

I liked the bits about the lepers. Every time someone was struck down with leprosy I sat up a bit straighter, hoping for some sort of insight into what it's really like to be afflicted with such a terrible disease and ostricised from friends and family. But the author's choice to write in distant omniscient third person meant I never really learnt what that feels like.

This is meant to be a quick read, so everything is given to us on a plate. It's one of those books where we're not painted a scene and left to work things out for ourselves; we're given both the scene and the narrator's judgement on it.

I found the judgement of Anna particularly harsh. The contrast of two sisters, one good, one bad, was too reminiscent of fairy-telling to offer much to the thinking adult reader. I found Anna the more interesting of the two. Maria was a hopeless, doe-eyed wet-dream of a character. The image of the beautiful, pious, meek and obedient Maria, standing on the shores of that island looking at the doctor will stay with me as an especially overdone romantic cliche. (In my mind there is wind. Blowing. Through her silky but unpretentiously adorned hair.)

I was feeling more positive about this book until after she got shot by her husband in a fit of (completely out-of-character) rage. When a fictional character stews on something and then acts like a mad person for five minutes it doesn't work. Well, authors do it, but it's been done so many times before. I'm not a huge fan of such melodrama.

These days I find it harder and harder to enjoy a light-hearted story about women who are basically chattels, as Cretan women were in those days. As I blossom into a curmudgeonly middle-aged woman, I frequently need to remind myself that we can't rewrite history; that's how things really were, and some women must've been happy, so why not write about them? But I got increasingly frustrated with this narrator. On page 426 she took the cake with the bit about what Giorgis was thinking after his daughter was murdered by her husband for sleeping with the husband's cousin: 'Though [Giorgis] wanted justice for Anna, he was never in any doubt that it was his daughter's behaviour that had triggered Andreas's violent reaction.'

Having recently read a book by Geraldine Brooks, this statement was far too reminiscent of the honor killings that still take place around this sorry world, and I felt pissed off that this book forms a sort of endorsement. The not-so-subtext message is: 'Well, you'll have to go to prison if you shoot your wife dead, but it's completely understandable that you killed her. After all, she was having sex with another *man*!!!!! That's YOUR honor she's taken off with, right there!!!!'

I hate that shit.

Yet many, many readers do so love this book. My mother borrowed someone else's copy on a cruise. She liked the story so much that she kindly bought a new copy and sent it straight to me, which is why I made it all the way to page 426 in the first place.
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