I think I have leprosy. No, seriously. I am not often known as a hypochondriac but my mind can often be persuaded of things without me realising. So now I think I have leprosy.
I am about half way through Victoria Hislop’s The Island, which has as its focal point the Island of Spinalonga, a once-upon-a-time leper colony in Greece. It has thrown me back in time to the mid war period and is detailing the development of one family in particular, their lives on main land Crete and their connection to the ‘unclean’ island sitting off their coast.
I have to say, I wasn’t hugely impressed when I started reading it. I think part of it is I was spoiled by the wonderful writing to Khaled Hosseini in The Kite Runner, who, let’s face it, made a real mark on me. I should not expect every book I pick up to be as well written. The only reason (honestly) I am reading the Island is because it was a donated and recommended book; Steve’s mum gave me a pile a while ago including The Book Seller of Kabul, and I am still trying to reach the bottom!
My skin crawled a little when I read the quote on the front, “At last – a beach book with a heart” from the Observer. A beach book?! Oh God no! I hate chick-lit! I really detest books that seem to be written to be discarded in the plane home, along with the memory of ever reading it. A book should be loved and be wanted still long after the last page has been turned. Anyone who has seen our house knows the pride we have at having an overflowing bookcase/shelf in every room of the house. No ‘beach books’ are on these shelves (unless we are counting The Beach by Alex Garland!). And the fact that it was a quote, chosen for the front cover, by the Observer! This worried me. Normally, when looking at quotes on the cover of books, there are certain ones I will listen to, The Guardian for one and therefore by extension, The Observer. Let’s just say I opened the book sceptically.
It didn’t feel much better as I started reading. Hislop’s language use in places jarred horribly as if someone was dragging their nails down a blackboard. This sensation of chewing cotton wool continued as the current day narrator transported me back to 1939. It felt like clichés were pouring out of every page and adjectives being used just for the hell of it, hot helping the flow.
But, saying this, I am now half way through – without even realising. I have found myself thinking about the poor inhabitants of Spinalonga as if it was something I have experienced first hand. I have started looking at my skin, checking for lesions and blisters, knowing full well I am entirely healthy, but becoming concerned about it all the same. Yesterday in the school staffroom, I looked around at the ensemble, imaging we were sat in the town hall debating the life of our leper colony and wondering when the cure would come, wondering when life would stop being so cruel. I dreamt about it last night. I woke at an unusually early hour this morning and instead of rolling over for another hour’s kip, I reached out for my glasses and my book and continued the story. The book has seeped into my subconscious over the last couple of days.
On reflection, I have realised that the writing is easier – or at least I have got used to it – and therefore much more enjoyable to read. The story line is not the most gripping I have ever encountered, but it is obviously keeping me entertained otherwise it would have been abandoned; I am not the kind of person who will persevere to the end of a book if it is boring the hell out of me! I do wish she had chosen to linger over certain aspects of the story rather than others, but obviously, or at least hopefully, these have some point and reason to the final outcome.
I sincerely hope this book does not ultimately disappoint me. I am hoping the strings are all tied together at the end leaving me wanting more, leaving me wanting to read other books by this author. I am still slightly sceptical though, I am almost waiting for the disappointment to come. But if it doesn’t, maybe I might be a ‘beach book’ convert?! Yeah, it might take more than one book actually! But for now, I am happy for the detail of this book to fill both my conscious and subconscious, I am even happy for it to make me think I have leprosy!