The Island, Victoria Hislop – Book Review

So, I’m a little late posting this one – and given the weather’s turn it’s hard to believe that less than a month ago I was seeing out the last of the summer in Crete. But, I was, and so this book packed with Cretan history seemed like the perfect pick for my trip. Victoria Hislop’s much-hyped debut, hailed as a ‘beach book with a brain’, offers an insight into some little-known (or at least to me) Greek history. With a historical drama and touching family saga played out against the natural beauty of the island of Crete, it seemed ideal for my recent holiday. But it’s not without it’s flaws.

The Island, Victoria Hislop

I knew little about the island of Spinalonga before this book, but after reading it’s an island I won’t forget in a hurry. This was Greece’s leper colony from the early 1900s through to the 1950s; one of the last European leper colonies in existence. The disease of leprosy was misunderstood, and victims were often feared and demonised. Hislop frames her story around a village family who are inflicted by the disease, and the majority of the tale is set between Spinalonga and Plaka, a small town opposite the the island, during this period.

I knew very little about Cretan history, Spinalonga or leprosy before reading this book, and I have to admit that I found this element of the book enlightening. The sense of fear of the disease is palpable, and the brutal transition those who were diagnosed had to go through – leaving their entire lives behind them to start anew on the island – was difficult to process.

But there were issues. Victoria Hislop’s writing style is unusual, almost literal in many ways, and it took me a while to get used to. Her characters were relateable but quite one-dimensional – there seemed little depth or character development throughout. The father, mother and youngest daughter Maria all felt a little too perfect, and the only character who really intrigued me was the second daughter, Anna, who wasn’t really explored enough.

There’s also a dual timeline narrative here, but the present day story of Alexis really gets so little time it’s barely worth mentioning, and really just feels like a poorly used plot device to bring the generations of the family together from past through to present.

This book was a strange one which left me with mixed feelings; it’s a fascinating, touching plot, yet the writing and character development was so poor I wasn’t able to appreciate it properly. It’s a story which deserves to be told, but I just wish the author had told it in a slightly different style.

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2 Comments

Filed under Book Reviews, Drama, Family, Historical, Romance

2 responses to “The Island, Victoria Hislop – Book Review

  1. I also read this book after visiting Crete and although I agree that the present day story is a vehicle for the historical one, I personally didn’t find the lack of character development you mention.

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