FIVE BOOKS SET ON AN ISLAND
What is it about a book set on an island? There’s something inexpressibly romantic about it – and a little terrifying too.
Perhaps it’s the isolation – the feeling that you can’t be disturbed… or helped. Perhaps it’s the fun of being king or queen of your own little fiefdom. Perhaps it’s the excitement of being entirely surrounded by water, literally cut off from real life in a way that makes it some how easier to relax and forget your daily worries.
Creating Ever After Island was one of the most fun parts of writing the book – but if you can’t wait to visit, here are some of my favourite fictional islands to tide (pun intended) you over.
And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
This one has to be the grandaddy – or maybe grandmother – of island mysteries, and the plot is beautifully simple: ten strangers, each with their own guilty secrets, trapped on the terrifying Soldier Island, being picked off one by one by a mysterious killer. In real life, the island that inspired Christie is the beautiful Burgh Island, home to a luxury art deco hotel and a beach hut where Christie herself once stayed. It’s currently for sale if you have £15 million to spare and fancy the high life! The idea of ten perfect strangers being lured into a trap by their own avarice and ambition is irresistible to me – perhaps that’s why I couldn’t resist riffing on it for One Perfect Couple!
Lord of the Flies by William Golding
Not really a mystery, although it does feature a murder, and yet in some ways this book was the closest inspiration for One Perfect Couple, with its account of human nature reduced to its rawest and most ruthless form in a fight to survive. When a plane carrying a group of schoolboys crashes on a remote island, the boys are forced to create their own society from scratch with all the freedom and terror that entails. It’s a truly disturbing read – but in spite of citing it as an inspiration, I think Golding’s vision of human nature is a lot bleaker than my own. In fact, when a real life version of the same scenario occured the outcome was far more hopeful – the boys worked together, took care of the sick and injured, and ensured that they all survived. It’s comforting to think that we’re often better than we give ourselves credit for.
The Beach by Alex Garland
Another book that isn’t exactly a mystery, but explores the slow unravelling of the central character in a way that reminds me a little of Donna Tartt’s The Secret History. Richard is an English backpacker travelling through Thailand when he meets Duffy, an older fellow traveller sleeping in the hostel room next to his. That night Duffy commits suicide, leaving a map detailing the location of a fabled perfect beach, on a remote and totally unspoilt island. Richard sets out to find the beach, unaware of the price he will have to pay for his curiosity. It’s a gripping and mesmeric read where no-one comes out unscathed, least of all Richard.
Running in the Family by Michael Ondaajte
This book is a little hard to track down, and it’s not a whodunnit, or even a novel, but I highly recommend you seek it out if you can find it. Proof that islands can be big, as well as small, it’s a lyrical, dreamlike account of the author’s family history and childhood spent on the island of Sri Lanka, then Ceylon. In reading, it’s best not to dwell too much on whether Ondaatje could possible have access to all the details he relates, and in any case that would miss the point of what he’s trying to achieve – this is a book as much about fable and family stories as it is an evocation of an extraordinary time and place.
Evil Under the Sun by Agatha Christie
Back to Christie, back to crime, and back to Burgh Island – this time in an incarnation closer to its real self, as the luxurious island hotel The Jolly Roger, where Hercule Poirot is spending his summer holiday. The setting in fact is so close to Burgh Island that my personal favourite of the various TV adaptations was filmed there, the 2001 Evil Under the Sun starring David Suchet as Poirot, Hugh Fraser as Hastings, and a very young Russel Tovey as Lionel Marshall. What’s fun about this one, and the reason I chose to end on it, is that the island here isn’t just a setting and a means of isolating the suspects, but its topography is a major part of the howdunnit and the investigation itself. You can almost see Christie pacing around Burgh Island plotting out the coves and access points and if you’re ever in Devon, or have the chance to be, I can’t think of a better way to spend an afternoon than doing the same, finishing up with an afternoon tea at Burgh Island.