There’s something about islands that make them an important part of some fiction.
They can be the settings for romance, vacation, adventure, murder, intrigue, etc. — and the often-isolated nature of islands adds drama to all kinds of story lines.
Given that today is Valentine’s Day, we’ll start with romance. In L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of the Island, Anne Shirley continues to deny her feelings for Gilbert Blythe until… I would add that much of Montgomery’s wonderful fiction is set on Canada’s Prince Edward Island, where her characters fall in love, experience heartache, and more.
Then there’s Bernard, the British protagonist in David Lodge’s Paradise News who travels to Hawaii for family reasons but finds unexpected romance there with an American woman named Yolande.
Things are a bit more complicated in M.L. Stedman’s The Light Between Oceans, in which the new marriage between Isabel and lighthouse keeper Tom Sherbourne changes radically after a baby washes up on shore. The very plot of the novel probably wouldn’t have worked without an island being that couple’s home.
Islands as the place for adventure? That’s the case with books such as Herman Melville’s Typee and Omoo, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, and Jules Verne’s The Mysterious Island.
Speaking of mysterious, islands are also a classic setting for some mystery novels.
For instance, when I read P.D. James’ The Lighthouse last week, I noticed that having the murders committed on a sparsely populated island conveniently limited the number of suspects — all of whom lived within close proximity of the victims (the first of whom was a much-disliked novelist!).
Also, what might be Agatha Christie’s most famous mystery — And Then There Were None — takes place on an island where the guests get bumped off one by one. Hard to run for help when you can’t get away.
Vile experiments are conducted in the title locale of H.G. Wells’ The Island of Doctor Moreau. Also negative is how the innocent Edmond Dantes is jailed for years in the Chateau d’If rocky island prison until he ingeniously finds a way to swim to safety and then plots his epic revenge against the men who framed him in Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo.
Dumas’ earlier Georges novel was set on Isle de France (now the island nation of Mauritius). Besides being exciting, the book is also known for being the only work by the part-African-descended author to focus on race and racism.
The setting of Aldous Huxley’s Island is remote and self-contained enough to allow for an experiment in forming a utopian society that’s quite the contrast with the dystopian world of Huxley’s more famous Brave New World.
And we can’t forget novels in which the protagonists are stuck on an uninhabited island — with Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe perhaps the most famous example. Oh, and William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, in which a stranded bunch of boys behave very badly.
What are you favorite novels and stories set partly or completely on an island? Heck, you can also discuss islands on the screen — in the Cast Away movie, the Gilligan’s Island sitcom, the Enemy at the Door miniseries, etc.!
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I’m writing a literature-related book, but still selling Comic (and Column) Confessional — my often-funny memoir that recalls 25 years of covering and meeting cartoonists such as Charles Schulz (“Peanuts”) and Bill Watterson (“Calvin and Hobbes”), columnists such as Ann Landers and “Dear Abby,” and other notables such as Hillary Clinton, Coretta Scott King, Walter Cronkite, and various authors. The book also talks about the malpractice death of my first daughter, my remarriage, and life in Montclair, N.J. — where I write the award-winning weekly “Montclairvoyant” humor column for The Montclair Times. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to buy a discounted, inscribed copy of the book, which contains a preface by “Hints” columnist Heloise and back-cover blurbs by people such as “The Far Side” cartoonist Gary Larson.