The Island (Victoria Hislop)

the_island_v_hislop_novel_coverThe novel begins in present day London where Alexis is about to go on holiday and about to decide on major changes to her life. She’s going to Plaka in Crete, the place where her mother, Sofia, grew up. Her mother refuses to speak about her past but she gives Alexis a letter to give to an old friend, Fortina, who will tell her the story. Beautifully imagined, well-researched and evocatively told, this novel recreates a leper colony of the 1930s and follows its inmates and neighbours on the Island of Crete through the Second World War to the present day.

The theme of searching for identity is well-served as the author follows characters whose identities have been stolen by disease—some losing their physical self-image, others half-destroyed mentally by loss of family and friends. The agony of ostracism, the fear of ever-present death and the struggle to create a life where life is already failing are made chillingly real. The kindness and cruelty of strangers threads the tale. And the modern-day story of a young woman searching for her own identity, seeking her past and her future, makes a pleasing wrapper. The subject is original, but I loved the fact the sickness itself wasn’t the main event. It might have been too repellent if that had been so.

The lives of the Petrakis family was given in such a way that kept my interest. Sweet Maria was my favourite out of all the characters. Having watched the series first, I could see the faces of the actors /actresses for each role and couldn’t help but think how fitting they were. I felt awful for the father. this poor man had to endure everything during his life. This novel kept me up reading for hours at a time, depriving me of mucho beauty sleep and rest. My interest was captured and kept through every chapter. The happy and sad moments were so mixed that didn’t seem fake even for one moment.

The writing changes point of view with unsettling fluidity; the reader’s certainty of characters’ innermost thoughts creating an intriguing contrast with the modern-day protagonist’s uncertainties about her mother and her lover. Side-stories, the flirtatious sister, the lost little boy, even soldiers in the war, all fold together creating a fine sense of people and place, a picture of quiet society still hiding in the warmth of Cretan sunshine and the dust of forgotten lanes. Secrets hurt, the past can’t be changed, but forgiveness and the choice to move forwards imbue the tale with a hopeful tone. Meanwhile the mystery of leprosy becomes something real that I’m glad to know more about. At 473 pages this is a lengthy novel to be savoured slowly. And it’s a fascinating tale leaving a lingering taste of sunshine and mystery.



  1. I’ve got this book on my to read list 🙂


  2. Thanks for commenting. I hope it resonates with you like it did with me. 🙂


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