24/09/2015

The Island Hideaway (by Louise Candlish)

I’ve liked all the books I’ve read by Louise Candlish, a contemporary women’s fiction writer whom I discovered as long ago as 2009. So I’ve gradually added more of her novels to my wishlist, and was pleased to be given this one last Christmas.

‘The Island Hideaway’ was apparently the author’s first novel, originally published in 2004 under the name ‘Prickly Heat’. Ten years later, she decided to revise it, in particular to make the technology more up to date, and gave it the new title. It’s appropriate since the story takes place in the idyllic small Italian island of Panarea, which is apparently off the coast of Sicily.

Eleanor is the main character of the book, and we see events, both present and past, through her eyes. We meet her travelling on the hydrofoil to Panarea, feeling a lurch of panic at what she’s planning to do. We quickly learn that she is essentially stalking her former fiancĂ© Will, who is holidaying on the same island with his new girlfriend. Eleanor has only the vaguest idea of what she plans to do if she sees him, and it’s clear that she’s quite overwrought, not thinking clearly, and has spent more money than she can afford on this trip.

She meets a pleasant young man called Lewis who’s an archaeologist, and staying in the same hotel as she is. She also gets to know a British couple on a second honeymoon, and an older German couple who have a young teenage daughter. The story features them all, in cameo scenes, alongside Eleanor’s increasingly desperate attempts to find out what Will is doing, and her decreasing hope of ever getting him back.

It’s an interesting storyline, well-written and very readable. My biggest problem is that Eleanor isn’t a very likeable person. She drinks and smokes extensively, as do all the people around her. At the end of the novel there’s a note stating that the author had considered removing some of the smoking in her revised version, now that it’s mostly banned in public places around Europe, but decided to leave it in. I think this was a mistake, as smoking is so unappealing, and the number of cigarettes mentioned is way beyond anything I’ve ever seen, even 20 years ago.

The amount of alcohol consumed also seems remarkably irresponsible; it makes the characters concerned look rather feeble and immature, as well as apparently rolling in money. Add to that that they seem to have almost no moral code or ethics, and I found it hard to believe in any of them; nor, indeed, in Eleanor's strange obsession with following Will.

It’s a testament to Louise Candlish’s writing that I kept reading, eager to find out what happened, wondering if Eleanor would end up with either Will or Lewis. I almost gave up when she decides to do something which seems entirely out of character, in a drunken state, that left a sick feeling in my stomach. But by that stage I’d realised I wasn’t going to like any of the characters much; yet I was even more intrigued to see how it would end.

The climax of the book, when it happens, seems unrealistic and - from the perspective of the people concerned - involves a badly thought-out expedition. But it leads to a reasonably neat and tidy ending, and a positive outlook for the future.

Overall, I thought this a bit disappointing after reading the author’s other books. Nonetheless, I finished it in just three days. I’m always interested to read debut novels, albeit edited and reworked, so am glad to have it in my collection. I wouldn’t particularly recommend it as an introduction to Louise Candlish, but those who enjoy her work might like to see how far her writing has developed over the years.

'The Island Hideaway' is available in Kindle form, but the paperback edition is no longer in print in the US.

Review by copyright 2015 Sue's Book Reviews

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