Wednesday, 8 September 2010

The Island by Victoria Hislop

While making my way through The Scarlet Letter recently I decided to pick up something easy to read alongside. I had already read Victoria Hislop’s second book The Return so decided to pick up her first book, the best-seller The Island.

The novel is set on the real Island of Spinalonga off the coast of Crete during the 50s when the Island was still being used as a leper colony. Before a cure was eventually found Greece sent many of its Leprosy sufferers to Spinalonga where the disease was able to be contained. Although the sufferers were cut off from their family and would die on the Island, many of them did have a better quality of life here than they would have had on the mainland. Previously to the opening of Spinalonga as a leper colony, sufferers would often live in the areas caves. At least on the island they received food, water and social security payments. The novel follows a family living on nearby Plaka and their ties with the Island over generations.

Well The Island starts off EXACTLY the same as The Return, a twenty something woman in a bad relationship goes to the country of her mothers birth in order to find out more about her family history and to unearth the reasons why her mother is secretive about her past. In The Return it was Spain and in The Island its Crete.

The author has a wonderful story to work with here and the story races along at breakneck speed throughout, sometimes at the expense of character development. The characters themselves are not fully rounded and I found many of them to be two dimensional. One of the daughters in the main family Anna for example is portrayed as selfish and wild and she therefore spends all of the book doing selfish and wild things without any explanation of her motivations and other sides to her character are not shown. Its not long before this novel started reading like a bad soap opera, a very predictable badly written soap opera.

So why did I keep reading? Well its a very easy lazy read for starters and although I feel as though the impact of Leprosy on the community was not fully explored, there was a lot of describtion of the disease and of the community on Spinalonga. It was the subject matter overall which kept me reading rather than the characters or the storyline.

I noticed that Under Their Skin by Dinah Lee Kung also deals with the theme of Leprosy and was published in the same year as The Island. I'm asuming it got overshadowed somewhat by The Island. I have added this one to my wish list but has anyone else read it?

Would I recommend it? If your after an easy love story based with some interesting history then yes, but dont expect anything of substance.

Verdict 2/5

Posted by Jess


  1. Sometimes, books with little substance are needed. That's why I like the occasional book by Nora Roberts.

    I have never heard of Victoria Hislop though. Would you recommend her second novel?

  2. I read The Return and liked it quite a bit but I'm not sure I could read The Island knowing that it starts off the same way as The Return. You'd think the author could have varied it a little when she wrote The Return.

  3. How odd that both of her books start off exactly the same way. This sounds interesting, as I've never read a book about leprosy, but I'm not sure if I could deal with that lack of character development. Hopefully Under Their Skin will be better, as I'm now curious. . .

  4. Susi - I remember enjoying The Return alot more. Although it had its problems I found the setting of the Spanish civil war to be an interesting one and I think the hardship of the spanish characters during that time really came across well.

    Ti - as about really, I was disapointed with this after reading The Return. But I felt like I was reading the same book at first.

    Brizmus - Under the Skin has had better reviews but as The Island was chosen as a book club book thats the one that became a huge seller. But The Island is a good light beach read so perhaps thats why also.

  5. No substance did you say? Well, I'm not going to spend time reading it then. Thanks for the review!

  6. Too bad this one fell flat. Premise sounds interesting but ultimately I'll be avoiding it. Thanks for the review.

  7. Great review Jessica.

    People have been recommending this one since I got The Return - I didn't know it was about a leper colony, which does interest me a lot, but I need strong characterisation too and all your problems with the novel would annoy me too.

  8. I liked this book better than her second one The Return!

    I think maybe because I had been to Crete and seen the island?

    A very good review.

  9. Sorry forgot to say, thanks for popping by my blog. I have added you to my list.

    Good to find some UK people book blogging.

  10. JoV - no, I can see why ppl would en reading it on holiday but I need something a bit more.

    Amy - it is a wonderful premise as all the historical elements are there. Shame really.

    Shannon - the characters were the main problem, Ive read better beach reads.

    o - hi, welcome Jo. Did you read the Island or the Return first? I read the Return first so might be why I prefered that maybe?

  11. I thoroughly enjoyed this as it has much more depth to it than the average romantic novel. I was a little surprised that you were disappointed but then I have not managed to get hold of a copy of The Return yet.

  12. Occasionally, it's nice to have a book without much substance to read alongside a more "heavy" read. The premise does sound quite interesting, anyway.

  13. Hmmm..intresting subject like you said, but unfortunate that it was not executed well. Maybe I'll pick up that other one you mentioned :) I am a new follower, I LOVE your header, its beautiful! Hope you have a great day.

    Danielle @

  14. LindyLouMac - I think it was more the writing than the story. The author spelled out things too much for the reader and the ending was very rushed I thought.

    Zara - if you ever want a beach read then I could recommend worse, its that kind of book.

    Danielle - thankyou very much - I think perhaps the writer had got alot better in writing her second book. The author also has quite a famous husband in the UK (just saying ;)