Thursday, 10 March 2011

The Island Victoria Hislop

Despite a hip replacement we still managed a joint best ever 9 members this month including two new ones. I really must take time out to say thank you to Sainsburys for their notice board. Nearly every new member who comes to a meeting mentions the Sainsburys sign, they are one of the few places in Cramlington that allows us to put a sign up and it's free! Hooray for Sainsburys.

Anyway books!

Or perhaps two books as The Island certainly seemed to be a book of two halves. The book starts off with Alexis heading off on holiday complete with imperfect boyfriend and mysterious mother. Chick lit alert! Well I said to myself I can totally guess where this is going, of to Greece where she will meet some handsome hunk and imperfect boyfriend will be kicked to the curb.

Except no, suddenly we were transported to the 1940s where a whole different book emerged, with twists and turns, strong characters, and not a hint of Chick lit in sight. Nearly all of us thought that the Alexis part of the story was superfluous. It didn't add to the book and seemed as though Hislop couldn't think of a way to introduce the story she wanted to write and so copped out with Alexis.

The ending also seemed to dilute the Spinalonga part of the book. It wound the whole story up too quickly and again seemed to (dare I say it) whisper at Chick lit - with mother dropping everything to fly to Greece and after not being able to even mention Greece to her daughter previoulsy confesses all over a Greek salad.

It sounds like I'm slating this book so let me make it clear I'm not. I've even recommended this to friends who haven't previously read it. Why? Because of the Spinalonga part of the book The Island where people diagnosed with leprosy were sent to live leaving everything and everyone they knew behind.

It was in this part that any comparisons to Chick lit got completely blown away and a real vivid picture of Cretian life emerged. It was wonderful to read about Plaka, the roles everyone played in society, how life was back then, their traditions and their amazing fighting spirit - they were quite willing to single handedly fight the Germans when they invaded.

The characters themselves were also really powerful. Anna who everyone in the group wanted to give a good shake, Fontini who you wanted as a friend. I would say that they were a touch one dimensional - Anna from the beginning was trouble and never strayed from this path where Maria was a constant goody two shoes to the point of almost verging on martyrdom.

The description of life on The Island was good. The book passed through 3 generations and you were shown the progression of how The Island prospered from not even having a proper water supply to the point that the inhabitants were better off during the occupation than the actual inhabitants of Spinalonga. They had electricity, decent hospital, food and even movies!

We discussed the horrors of leprosy and how we didn't really know much about it but envisioned hideous disfigured old crones lurking in shadows. One of our group compared leprosy to HIV ie how initially sufferers were shunned, condemned and the misconceptions surrounding the disease where it was thought that merely touching someone would infect you.

For those of you who are interested Spinalonga is an actual place, there was an actual leper colony and you can now go on holiday to Plaka and take a day trip to Spinalonga.

We awarded the book an 8. For a few members it was second time around for this book and it seemed to reread favourably.

Next book is The Hours by Michael Cunningham

PS next month Book Club is one years old. Get the candle ready!