The Wight Fair Writers & Artists Circle

A Place for Isle of Wight Authors, Writers and Artists

Chestnut’s Corner January 2015


Melanie ArcherBy Melanie Archer

The Reading Chestnut

The Island, by Victoria Hislop. First published by Headline Review in 2005.

I first found the beauty of this book the day before I went into labour with my first son, Charlie in 2011. I borrowed it from my local library, started it that afternoon and the next morning I settled down to read it but couldn’t as I had gone into labour so I slipped it into my hospital bag. After having my son we were in hospital for six days after a difficult labour and a very large baby meant he was in intensive care for a couple of days and I too needed to recover, so I read it whilst on my hospital bed. However my memory of the book from that time is not clear, I recall it took me what felt like forever to finish it. So when my son was about a year old, I read it again and fell head over heels in love with it.

Its warmth, history and charm just ooze off the pages. Absorbing right from the first word it pulls you in and settles in your heart.

Alexis longs to know more about her family and her mother’s history, yet Sofia has never spoken of anything about her past, other than that she grew up in a small Cretian village. Alexis decides to go to Crete to learn more and meets Fontini, a friend of her mothers who promises to tell all. Alexis learns about her Great Grandmother and her daughters who lived a stones throw away from the tiny deserted island of Spinalonga – Greece’s leper colony (1903 – 1957). Alexis discovers a family history full of tragedy, war, passion and humanity, this is an engaging novel and one I think everyone should read. This has been described as holiday literature but it is so much more than that. Hislop beautifully deals with the stigma attached to leprosy in real terms, with thoughtfulness and tenderness, ultimately showing that love and life continues in all circumstances.

When I get asked what this book is about my one-word reply is generally ‘Leprosy.’ But this doesn’t even touch the surface of what it is about, The Island takes you deeper below the surface and explores leprosy in all its forms and to me symbolises that it is not all about physical disability and appearance but about the prejudice and leprosy of the mind and how this can be overcome.

I have read this book several times and I am confident that I shall do so several more. This novel and subsequent novels by Victoria Hislop have earned their place in Chestnut’s Corner and for my own personal attachment will never leave.

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