Friday 14 September 2012

Book review : An Island Between Two Shores - Graham Wilson

Tales of shipwrecked individuals desperately fighting the elements to survive on a hostile desert island are nothing new. Robinson Crusoe was penned way back in 1719, The Blue Lagoon brought a rather romanticised version to our screens in the eighties, Tom Hanks was nominated for an Oscar for his performance in Cast Away , Lost brought in a paranormal element and Survivor took it into the world of reality TV. But all of those versions took place on tropical islands surrounded by fish and trees. An Island Between Two Shores takes us to a tiny island in the middle of a freezing, barren Alaskan river where the only thing at hand is a log, snow and an incredibly annoying raven.

When the novel begins, we have no idea of who Liana, the central character, and Henry, her companion, are and this gives the novel a timeless, universal quality. As the action unfolds, we learn that she is a young French woman who has been living a totally reclusive life with Henry, a mysterious American-Indian who took her under his wing when her father (his boss), who had come to the Klondike from Paris to make his fortune finding gold, was killed.

Liana shows a great deal of adaptability and resistance, pitting her wits against everything that Mother Nature can throw at her, from freezing temperatures and an absolute lack of food to ravenous wolves. The descriptions of the barren arctic landscape are highly evocative and it is easy to see that the author has a rich personal experience of the area he describes. I would have liked to discover a bit more about the Klondike Gold Rush and the fate of those who chased their dreams searching, often in vain, for gold in dem dere hills. I felt that the story of Liana's father could have been further developed.

But the story is so well told, by turns poetic and brutal, that it has huge emotional impact, gripping the reader from start to finish. I was very impressed at the depth of emotion that the author could lead me to feel for the central character in such a short, 148 page novel, and I know that I will not forget Liana and her struggle to survive whatever the cost for a long time.

I think the ending is one that you'll either love or hate. I found it surprising but clever and undoubtedly the only one that could really finish the story  to maintain the gritty realism it portrays from the very beginning.

star rating : 5/5

RRP : $14


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