Monday, December 30, 2013

Book Review: The Island

It seems like ages ago now, but back in the summer we were on the island of Crete. The book to read was, of course, Titus, and I've reviewed a commentary I read while there. But in the realm of fiction there was another must read book, set on and just off Crete: The Island by Victoria Hislop. It is ostensibly a ladies' book, but the local angle made it just about acceptable for me to read it too (I hope!).

Alexis is of Greek origin, but living in London with her family. And Alexis is at a crossroads. She's trying to decide whether to continue with her long-term boyfriend, whose personality seems to be very different from her own. As they head off to Crete on holiday, her mother (who has always been reticent and mysterious concerning her family history) gives her a letter for an old friend, propelling Alexis on a journey of self-discovery, prompted by the events on and around Spinalonga, an island leper colony just off Crete.

Alexis' family friend begins to share the whole back story of Alexis' granny and great-aunt, with elements of jealousy, tension, intrigue, tragedy and comedy. The whole time, as the story unfolds, the reader is left guessing as to which of the sisters is which, until the crashing conclusion.

The portrayal of the suffering of those with modern day leprosy, particularly the fear and hysteria of those surrounding them is touching. Their utter hopelessness demonstrates the sadness of living with leprosy, until a cure is found and the colony is quickly deserted.

Set within a deeply religious (Orthodox) community, there are hints and details of their religious thought and practice. The keeping of Good Friday - 'Christ's funeral procession' or the Feast of Agros Konstandinos: 'the girls of Plaka donned their finery. They had been to church, but their minds were on things other than the sacred nature of the event.' There's also the importance of infant baptism: 'Until baptised... she was exposed to the "evil eye", but once the ritual had taken place her spiritual safety would be guaranteed... as the congregation saw the waters wash away the baby's nonexistent sins.'

There was a slight issue with a little detail I noticed, which detracted from the quality of the story. Anna had arranged to see her dad on the 3rd Wednesday in September. Maria is told to get her concern checked out after that. But then Maria gets an appointment with Dr Kyritsis on Monday 17th September - which is obviously before the 3rd Wednesday! The time sequence just doesn't work in this instance.

It's a good story, flitting back and forth between the generations as stories run concurrently. The characters draw you in, with sympathy for some of them and rage at others. But it is probably more for the ladies with the romantic thrust throughout. The Island is available from Amazonand for Kindle.

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