Read: Island by Alistair MacLeod

Why do we read? It was a question that I couldn’t help musing over as I read this book. It’s not an easy question to answer. All kinds of answers popped into my head: chasing away boredom, a love for the written word, the way books can result in reflection and inspiration. And oh the worlds that books allow you to step into, take a look around and get lost in. Places that sometimes are made up, places that are wonderful or woeful, places that you will never in your lifetime get to but can explore through books.

And so it was for me and Alistair MacLeod’s The Island. At first I wasn’t quite so sure about it. There was that sense of sadness, a greyness about his stories. I thought, oh great, a depressing read. But as I read on, and began to kind of understand this place (Cape Breton) and its communities better, through the stories told from different perspectives, it all sank in and settled around me and was at once comforting and sad, familiar and strange. I couldn’t quite understand it (and this is my way of trying to understand it): How is it that a collection of stories, from this place so far removed from everything I’ve ever known, could move me so?

Perhaps it was the mood I was in. Perhaps it was the grey, the rain that I couldn’t stop from appearing outside my window. Perhaps that is just the power of the written word.

Sometimes I feel a little silly when I write about the books I’ve read. Especially when the books are by established but new to me authors. I don’t know what I can say that hasn’t been said over and over before. But sometimes I think, maybe someone else hasn’t read anything by said author. And would, like me, be awed and inspired by those words for the first time.

There is a constant sense of the divide between working class and white collar such as in The Return; between educated children and their uneducated parents such as in The Golden Gift of Grey; between tradition and the contemporary world such as in The Tuning of Perfection. That divide is riddled with all kinds of issues and problems. Many never to be resolved.

Reading The Island does take a good investment of time, as I found it quite hard to move immediately from one story to another, and I took nearly three weeks to finish reading this (if it weren’t a library book, I think I might have taken much longer, as each story ought to be savoured individually) It is quite a sad read, even with the stories that have a lighter touch, and there were a few stories that were a bit too aloof, a bit too heavy for me, and I felt like I was chewing away at it, without getting much of a taste of its flavour. Those types of stories were a minority though and as I gradually made my way through this collection, I was moved and absorbed into this sad, snowy, foggy, craggy world that is Alistair MacLeod’s Island.

Book provided by my library

This is my read for the North American leg of the Reading the World Challenge (challenge page).


  1. “Why do we read?” A pondersome question indeed! Thank you for your thoughtful review. You make me want to read Island, even though it sounds sad. Melancholic, perhaps, rather than depressing?


    1. It was definitely a book that stays with you even after it’s been returned to the library. Perhaps one day, when you’re in the mood for something a little, yes, melancholic, it might be worth a read. I don’t know about you, but I do occasionally get in that kind of mood.


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