28 May 2018

Island

After reading "The Northern Clemency" by Philip Hensher in Corfu, I began another novel and continued reading it throughout our three hour flight home. This second novel was written in 2005 and over the last decade it has been enjoyed by many thousands of readers.

The novel in question is "The Island" by Victoria Hislop. It is set in eastern Crete and the seeds for its creation  were sown during Mrs Hislop's first visit to the offshore island of Spinalonga.

For over fifty years Spinalonga was the location of a leper colony - populated by unfortunate victims of leprosy from both Crete and mainland Greece. When you were sent to Spinalonga there was no possibility of return - or so everyone thought until, in the mid-1950's a cure for leprosy was finally confirmed.
Spinalonga seen from Plaka
In 1957, the colony shut down for good and the island was left to wrack and ruin. It received very few visitors but since the success of "The Island" it has become a must-see destination for visitors to eastern Crete. Shirley and I were there in June 2015. To see my initial blogpost about our visit to Spinalonga, please go here.

The island and the nearby tiny port of Plaka are the main locations for what unravels in the novel. It is pretty well-researched and clearly Victoria Hislop came to know a great deal both about leprosy and the customs of eastern Crete. She uses this knowledge to embroider her tale of love, family loyalties, heartache and leprosy. The novel spans some fifty years.

Soft sod that I am, I found myself weeping as I turned some of the pages. The story is written with genuine humanity and tenderness. No wonder the novel has won so many admirers and I will wager that some readers of this blogpost read "The Island" years ago. Like "The Northern Conspiracy" it  is not Literature with a big "L" but a damned good read all the same.

24 comments:

  1. It sounds like the island could do with a name change...to "Stayalonga".

    Perhaps, not. Although no doubt a fascinating place to visit for a day-trip...its starkness...the harshness of the rock with little foliage to soften its appearance and the island's sad history would cast an eerie feeling of sorts over those who visit.

    Just an observation...I'm probably wrong.

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    1. No, you are right... but as the novel shows, the lepers created a happy and orderly community together. It wasn't all bad. When we were there it felt as if the leprosy victims had departed just months beforehand. Faded curtains still flapped in some of the windows.

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  2. Spinalonga sounds like a made-up name, doesn't it?

    I will look for this novel also, as the history you gave us is quite intriguing. It's the kind of place I would take the time to see if I were the travelling kind, which I am not -- but that's one reason I like reading about other peoples' adventures.

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    1. I agree that Spinalonga does sound like an invented name. It doesn't even sound Greek - more like Disney.

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  3. I like damned good stories. Skip the blood and gore.

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  4. I read the book when it first came out, and thoroughly enjoyed it.
    Years ago (in the 1970's) we went to Crete on holiday several times, and one year stayed at an hotel just outside Elounda, which is a village a short way from Plaka. We could see the island in the distance from the hotel beach. We weren't able to visit, but heard tales about the leper colony from some of the English speaking locals.

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    1. It is a bit of a shame that you were so close but never got to visit the island CG. It would have enriched your reading experience.

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  5. I read this book a few years ago and really enjoyed it, but some of the other novels she wrote, not so much!

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    1. It was her first book and driven by real inspiration - not a publisher's bidding.

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  6. Strangely enough, in my comment to your 2015 post about Spinalonga I did not mention that I had read Victoria Hislop's book a few years before that. I do remember the book and how fascinated I was by Spinalonga and its inhabitants, many of who(m?) managed to live in relative happiness against all odds.
    If you are interested, you can read my 2012 review of the book here.

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    1. I just went over to read your review. I note that you had a few reservations about it and I can see why but like me you enjoyed it all the same.
      P.S. In this instance it is - whom.

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  7. I remember reading this book a few years ago.

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    1. Did you enjoy it or is too long ago to remember?

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    2. I enjoyed it (I think!) and learnt something about leper colonies.

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  8. If it makes a man cry then I'm going to read it!

    Spinalonga sounds Italian: Longspine, Longthorn, Longbarbedwire, Longfishbone.
    Greetings Maria x

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    1. You may find this documentary film with English subtitles, L’ORDRE of J.D.Pollet, intersting. You can find it on YouTube.
      x

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    2. I will try to remember to check that out Maria. Thanks for the notion.

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  9. Oddly enough I had the book (probably still have) because of the Spinalonga connection. Those to whom I have lent it recommended it but I still haven't got around to reading it.

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    1. It's the G.Edwards Library Lending Service! Some people might say that "The Island" is a woman's book. More relationship concerns than killing or car engines.

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  10. I'm back into reading YP off to buy this on pension day!

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  11. I'll keep an eye out for this one! I went to Crete years ago but not to the eastern part. So I missed out on Spinalonga entirely. Must go back!

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  12. Isn't it funny, Neil, that I just recently finished Molika'i, a non-fiction about the leper colony on the Hawaiian Island of the same name. It was awe-inspiring in that, even when the hospitals and clinics were closed, the people who had lived there for most of their lives formed and prospered in their own community and found they didn't want to leave after all, even when they could have.

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