Hello Papyrus and Peppermint Readers!
Finally, we’re almost out of the Winter Chill! Here in the UK we had the ‘beast from the east’ and Storm Emma, which brought chilly temperatures, lots of snow and an excuse to wear huge scarves and hats! Now we’re nearing Spring, I have daffodils growing in my garden, and we’re back to above 10c today, hurrah!! Whilst I love being wrapped up in my colourful blankets in Winter, there is nothing more I love than sunshine and great weather!
In October (across Halloween in fact) I visited one of my favourite holiday Islands, Tenerife.
I have to say it was a brilliant trip, strange due to the time and the weather for me however. I’ve never before being sat sipping cocktails by the sea at dusk whilst spirited children (and adults) run around me dressed as Pumpkins, Skulls and Witches asking for candy! It was really great fun.
Shortly, I’ll be luckily enough to be returning to this beautiful place for a spring holiday, and it reminded me of a book I read whilst on Holiday there last year, that I have promised to review for some time. So, with summer and holidays fast approaching, here is my review of arguably my most favourite holiday read, ever.
Please Note – I’ve kept my description of the book and it’s story short and rather vague on this occasion, as I feel as though you need to experience this one for yourself. I wanted to recommend it to my readers, but I would also be deeply sorry to spoil the tale for you. It really had a profound effect on me, and I wouldn’t want to alter your experience.
The Island, by Victoria Hislop
This book was bought for me as a gift and I’d never read any of Victoria Hislop’s novels prior, but having won a Book award, and the winner of Richard & Judy Summer read, I was hoping for an indepth novel, yet appropriate for relaxing by the pool side.
So, with a cocktail in hand and the heat from the sun warming up my face, I turned to page 1.
The story begins in 2001 with 25 year old Alexis Fielding, the daughter of a Greek mother and an English father, she is an adventurous spirit with a love of travel and culture. She is however undergoing a struggle with her 5 year long relationship, unsure as to whether she should stay with Ed due to their growing incompatibilities, which is increasingly becoming more apparent the more they explore together. The decision she faces makes her think of her own Mother and Father and how strong their relationship is, and in turn she begins to think of her Mother and her family. Her Mother, her heritage and her family history are somewhat a mystery, a closely guarded secret, never spoken about or discussed. She knows that her Mother is from Crete and longs to visit there during an upoming holiday with Ed, to see for herself where her Mother grew up, and also to see what she can find out about her family there.
There are very few clues for Alexis around the home, except a framed photograph on her Mother’s nightstand of a man and woman on their wedding day, whom she knows to be her Mother’s Aunt Maria and Uncle Nikolas. Alexis knows that this photograph is of importance to her mother as she has very few framed photogrpahs around the home.
Prior to setting off for her next adventure with Ed, Alexis shares with her mother that she intends to visit her Mother’s village of Plaka, 2 hours from Iraklion. Her mother a while later hands her a letter, and tells her to find her childhood friend Fortini Davaras.
A while later, Alexis and Ed are in Crete on holiday, where Alexis shares with Ed that she will be going alone to Plaka the next day to see her Mother’s village, much to Ed’s annoyance.
Alexis reaches Plaka, a rural village by the sea. Alexis is shocked to see how close the island of Spinalonga is to the village of Plaka. Alexis had read in her guidebook of Crete about Spinalonga, a former Leper colony, but did not realise just how close it was to her Mother’s village.
Alexis decides to visit the former Leper Colony with the aid of a local fisherman. Among arriving on the island she finds a formally lived in town, a ghost town now at that. With just a few lizards for company, Alexis explores and tries to understand how living on the island must have been from an inhabitant’s perspective. Upon returning to the mainland, Alexis finds her Mother’s friend Fortini in a local Taverna. She hands Fortini her Mother Sofia’s letter, which asks Fortini to explain Sofia’s past to Alexis.
Here we are transported to 1939, to the lives of Elini and Giorgis and their daughter’s Maria and Anna. Throughout the following chapters, we are led through the years 1939-1958, and the lives and struggles of our main characters. Deeply intwined in their lives is the island of Spinalonga, it’s inhabitants, it’s disease and it’s struggles. Giorgis is a fisherman, who visits Spinalonga with deliveries and to transport new inhabitants to the island. Elini is a very popular and much loved village school teacher, loved by her pupils and her pupils loved in return.
Leprosy in this era we learn was viewed as a dirty disease, namely due to it’s discussion within the bible as a curse from God, and deeply impure. It did not have a cure and ruined lives. Children, Mothers, Fathers, pillars of society were torn from their communities, placed on the island afar from their loved ones, no matter what the circumstance.
During the following chapters we learn Sofia’s family history, the ups, downs, struggles, twists and turns including that of murder, adultery and war, but mostly we learn of the key role that Leprosy has to play on the lives of our characters and villagers. There is death, deceit, and cancelled marital engagements, deep shame cast upon families where anyone within it caught Leprosy. However, in all the pain and woe, we learn mostly about love, profound love for family members, for each other, and that above all the horrific atrocities these people suffered, love conquers all.
The first thing you will notice as you pick up this read is Hislop’s writing style; it is simply beautiful. Her descriptions, level of detail and writing style leads the reader to feel like they could be there. I could smell the sea air, see the colours and streets of the village and the faces of the characters as I read.
‘Dressed in an unfamiliar feel of crisp, ironed cotton, she wandered down the dark back stairway and found herself in the restaurant kitchen, drawn there by the powerful aroma of strong, freshly brewed coffee.’
The characters inhabiting Plaka and Spinalonga were incredibly strong. I felt like I almost knew each one in turn, their beliefs, mindsets and spirit. She somehow finds this perfect description equilibrium to set the scene, without being overdescript, as you can see from the extract above. I can smell the coffee and feel the shirt on my skin, can’t you?
The story itself was so expertly written, a great level of research and detail had clearly gone into the story line and life at that time. In addition there were no holes I could see within the plot and it flowed effortlessly.
I also absolutely applaud Hislop for teaching me about a subject that I barely knew of, with such grace, respect and love. This novel could have been very heavy going, and I will not deny that at times there were a few tears shed behind my sunglasses, wiping them away by pretending to be rubbing in my sun cream, however by the end of this tale, I somehow felt uplifted. I was with my Mother and two of my nephews during this holiday, and the story really made me realise the importance of family, and how lucky I was to have mine with me. It made me appreciate my time with them much more than perhaps I may have done.
Whilst I absolutely treasure this book, I do have to say that there is one story line that really troubles me, and that is that of modern day Alexis. Alexis’s character is strong, but Sofia I did not feel came across through the pages. Knowing where Sofia has come from and the journey she has been on later on in the book, I would expect Sofia to be a stronger character of wills, which in some ways you could argue her stubborn streak is the reason why Alexis travelled to Plaka in the first place, but I also felt that the love I had come to know from her family that brought her up, did not really seem to have passed down to her; at least that’s not what I felt through the pages.
The story of Alexis and her boyfriend is a very weak story line. I feel almost that the book was written in two halves, the 1930s-1950s written first with the story of Alexis written around it, and perhaps this is the case. However I feel it’s very blocky in this respect and almost feels like two different writers.
I would still however urge you to pick this book up as your next Holiday or Summer garden read. It’s a true beauty and one I will no doubt re-read in summers to come. I really hope you enjoy it.
Can’t put it down rating: 4/5
I found the beginning of this book difficult to settle into, as I did not know where the story of Alexis was really going. I was worried that the story line seemed so shallow and cliché, that the main story itself would follow suit. Thankfully I had no need to be concerned, for the main story itself was absolutely beautiful. Although in some aspects I do believe that it was predictable in some places, I could not have imagined that the story would begin and end where it did. It was a book that I quickly flew through in great anticipation whilst on that sunbed, but one I was most upset to have finished when I finally did.
That’s the bittersweet feeling of a genuinely good book I think; impatiently wishing to know the end of the story, but enduring a feeling of true sadness when it arrives.
Washed down with:
Well what else when on Holiday! 😉
I hope you enjoyed my latest review, my next post will be after my holiday, where I’ll be reviewing ‘Friend Request’ by Laura Marshall. To automatically be notified of my posts, please follow me either via WordPress or Email!
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