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Canvey Island

3.31  ·  Rating details ·  142 Ratings  ·  30 Reviews
Profoundly moving and eloquently written, 'Canvey Island' tells the story of changing times in post-war Britain through one family's tragedy and loss. It is a novel about past wounds and past passions, about growing up and growing old, about love, hope and reconciliation.
Paperback, 308 pages
Published 2007 by Bloomsbury (first published 2006)
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(showing 1-30)
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Blake Fraina
Sep 10, 2011 rated it really liked it
James Runcie’s Canvey Island is a quiet, thoughtful work of fiction that shows how the character of average people is shaped by the most difficult circumstances of their lives, much like the British coastline, which his protagonist tries so desperately to preserve, is inevitably worn away by the ravages of the sea.

As a young boy, Martin witnesses his beloved mother’s death by drowning in a terrible flood on their island home. His father Len, in the meantime, is out dancing on the mainland with
Stephanie Jane
Our copy of Canvey Island, discovered on a campsite book exchange, was ex-library and had been mislabeled on the spine as biography. I didn't realise this until I was about to start reading it so my thoughts over the first few chapters were probably affected by expecting a true memoir rather than a fictional tale.

Canvey Island begins during the real-life flooding in 1953 which caused considerable damage and loss of life all along that part of the British coast. I remembered having previously wat
Wisteria Leigh
Jan 30, 2009 rated it liked it
Canvey Island[return]James Runcie[return]Other Press[return]978-1-59051-293-7[return]312 pages[return][return][return][return]The story takes place in 1953 on Canvey Island as a storm approaches. Quickly the waters rise and a devastating flood leaves behind destruction and death. One of those dead is Martin s mother Lily. Len, Martin s father had taken Vi, Lily s sister to a dance, as was customary. Lily preferred staying home to dancing. This time her decision proved fatal as her leg was caught ...more
Julie Hedlund
Canvey Island is a good book about "ordinary" people living "normal" lives (in quotes because I don't believe there really is such a thing). This book reminds you that there is a story inside everyone's life. What makes it especially interesting is that while Martin (the boy who lost his mother in the flood at the beginning of the book) is the main character, the story is told from the perspective of several characters. This technique can often be distracting, so I was surprised to find that eac ...more
Kath Middleton
Aug 31, 2014 rated it really liked it
This book begins with the true story of the flooding of Canvey Island in 1953 when dozen of lives were lost. Naturally, the consequences of this live on in the families affected and young Martin, who lost his mother, is one such. The interwoven lives of his father, Len, his Aunt Violet and Uncle George are scrutinised and are not what they appear on the surface. George has never recovered his mental health after the war. Martin is determined to study hydrology so as to prevent other such acciden ...more
Apr 17, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Though I did think this book was fairly well written, it just didn't grab me. I was fine with the alternate points of view in each chapter, but somehow, even by the end of the book, I felt like I was someone just getting a very superficial view of a few inhabitants of a certain place, after a certain incident. I didn't feel like the story was pulled together enough & I didn't feel closure at the end, not to mention that none of the characters really appealed to me. By the last page, I was wo ...more
Jul 28, 2012 rated it it was ok
A rather dismal novel that starts with a disaster on an island in the Thames estuary and jumps through different points in the main character's life as he falls in love, goes to Cambridge, marries, and is temporarily abandoned by his wife who joins the women's anti-nuclear protest camp at Greenham Common. It's a portrait of a generation but a very gloomy one.

Once Martin's mother was gone (which was very early) I didn't like any of the characters and I found the story bleak and depressing. They
Aug 27, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was pretty good, and a quick read. Told in the voices of the various characters--interesting but all the 'voices' were basically the same, so you need to check the chapter heading occasionally to see who's speaking. The story of Martin, whose mother is drowned in the 1953 flood that inundated Canvey Island (not far from London, in the Thames estuary). It follows him through his childhood, adolescence and adulthood. Not fabulous, but enjoyable.
Dec 14, 2015 rated it it was ok
This is a book that had an interesting story very awkwardly told. Each chapter is told from a different person's point of view, making it very choppy and disruptive to read. It also made it really hard to connect with the characters because with each chapter, (all of which were extremely short), the book would give you one brief glimpse into each character's development. But it made it almost impossible to connect with any of them and left each of them feeling very superficial at best.
Pamela Darling
Oct 31, 2013 rated it liked it
I did enjoy reading Canvey Island, most especially because I recognised most of the places mentioned so was quite a nostalgic journey for me. I was impressed with James Runcie's ability to create the main character as if it was indeed himself that had gone through the trauma of the flood and seeing his mother drown in front of him. I was disappointed that towards the end of the book the story is quite weak and where I would have given four stars felt unable to do so for this reason.
Dec 12, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
A starkly beautiful meditation on the meaning of loss, Canvey Island threads together the lives of six different people and the ways they cope with love and grief. The introspective vignettes that make up the novel were incredibly well done and it added so much depth to the story to see the same thing through several different sets of eyes and how what each character knew and felt affected their interactions with each other.
MacKenzie Wilson
I have to admit, the first I'd heard of Canvey Island was from a British Sea Power song of the same name. But for those who are familiar with the 1953 flood that claimed the lives of 58 people, such history is barely a part of this charming novel. The thoughts of "what if" impact these five characters on many levels ... everyone faces those kinds of thoughts throughout their lives. Growing old and accepting that things do happen in life is difficult for all of us ...
Sep 03, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
good novel of england in 50'-80's. kind of thin on the characters and plot but all the music, dancing, and importance of songs to peoples lives is very nice. also has the peace in a greenham(SP?) where 1000's of women camped out to try and stop the cruise missile installation. god, how did we ever get through the 80's?
Feb 07, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
There's a great line from the Social Distortion song, "Ball and Chain," that reminds me of the protagonist in this story: "You can run all your life, but not go anywhere." This well-written hard-luck story refused to be put down all afternoon. The narrative features several historical events in mid to late 20th century England and periodic emotional sucker-punches.
Jo Barton
Aug 19, 2009 rated it really liked it
I must say that this book surprised me as it's not like anything I have read by James Runcie.The story starts off very vividly with an event I had never heard of, and we are then treated to individual vignettes which span decades.

I warmed to the characters and felt quite deeply for some of them. An interesting book, and one that could be easily missed.
Kim F
Nov 02, 2016 rated it really liked it
A sad story, beautifully written. This book in turns made me want to live on an island and made me thankful for my landlocked way of life. Love, obsession, fear, family, I feel like this book touched so many notes.
Apr 24, 2009 marked it as partially-read  ·  review of another edition
I read it to page 23, from BAMM Fiction Book Club. I like the sense of urgency created by the story being told from different characters' viewpoint in short sentences, as well as the gripping situation of the storm. But I'm not interested in the story itself, as described in the blurb.
Aug 13, 2009 rated it liked it
Martin looses his mother in a flood. His childhood is changed and he must deal with his life. His story involves relationships, family, trauma from the flood and WWII. Life and death are some of the issues he deals with.

I very much enjoyed this book and the way it was written.
Jan 19, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I was intrigued by the story of the flood and Martin losing his mother but then as it degenerated into the daily lives of the remaining characters I found myself less enchanted. I felt sad for most of the characters because it was so "mundane." I guess a just expected more.
Jan 13, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: ny-times-review
Post-war to the present Canvey Island, England is the setting of this lovely, relationship centered novel about a boy whose mother drowns in a flood and the everlasting impact this has upon him and his loved ones throughout his life.
Oct 19, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This book was alright. It wasn't the greatest book that I have ever read and at times I got a little annoyed with the characters. Also, at a few points it just did not seem realistic at all, but it was well written.
Jan 10, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: british-fiction
Beautiful character development & great generational story of children whose parents lived through WWII.
May 02, 2015 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Even after finishing this book I don't have a real idea what it was (supposed to be) about. The characters all came over as being a bunch of self-centered morons.
Wisteria Leigh
2009-Winter,historical fiction,Canvey Island,flood,family relationships,marital relationships,ER
Patricia Bracewell
Jul 22, 2012 rated it did not like it
Conflicts too easily resolved.
Aug 14, 2011 rated it did not like it
Shelves: novels, not-owned
Forgettable. Apparently, since I read it several weeks ago and can't remember much about it.
Jazzy Lemon
Jul 06, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This is a 50 year saga of Martin and his family who live on Canvey Island, written from the point of view of those involved, almost like a documentary. Very well done.
Simon newson
Nov 12, 2011 rated it liked it
lifes and loves in in post war england
Jan 13, 2009 rated it really liked it
I used to live 10 minutes from here!
Nov 07, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A child loses his mother in a flood, and the story takes his life forward. Martin can be a frustrating character but I enjoyed this snapshot of English life.
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James Runcie is a British novelist, documentary film-maker, television producer, theatre director, and Artistic Director of the Bath Literature Festival.
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