I’m steadily working my way through the nation’s 100 favourite books according to World Book Night’s poll in 2011. Find out more about this challenge and check my progress here.
I found The Island to be an unexpectedly sweet novel. Although it’s essentially a beach read, the story of a young woman bent on discovering more about her secretive mother’s past, and the parallel story of said mother’s great grandmother’s tragic life, I found it quite absorbing and deeper than I expected. The titular island is not the blissful desert island you might expect, but instead the site of a colony, where lepers are sent to die. This brings with it a whole new set of expectations – a miserable pit of a place with depressed, dying inhabitants – but Hislop gently introduces us to a vibrant, democratic community packed with residents trying to better their lives and fighting for respect from the mainland community.
I lacked much empathy with the main present day character, Alexis – she struck me as a little self-centred – but once her journey took her to the site of the island and the story of her family, I became much more engaged. As with most of these Mediterranean love stories, there is a myriad of outlandish characters with similar, unfamiliar names, and the story spans several decades, which at times had me scanning back through the pages to remind myself who was who. However, I loved the way the narrative was hung around the women of the community, and the way each of them staked a firm claim on my attention.