I am packing for a desert island trip. I have no knowledge of when I will return. Which characters from which of my favourite books do I take with me, which do I leave behind?
Reader for Silver Crow Books, Nicola Player, reflects on her literary companions.
I feel fairly happy about my survival skills. Having raised two sons in rural Somerset, my wits were often tested in the wilderness. It therefore comes without much trepidation that my first three choices are people who I could choose for company, moral support and for their own brand of survival expertise.
With Jane Eyre’s character I feel that she would enjoy a break from her life with Mr Rochester to exercise her autonomy in full. We know she has hopes, dreams and would be a shared source of determination when the fire needs to keep burning, or we need to climb up a coconut tree for a third time that day. Her moral compass, so well described in the book, could be very useful when exploring nourishment options.
Alongside Jane, I choose another determined woman. Virginia Hall was (intentionally) an unsung heroine in history, with one natural leg (and her false one called Cuthbert). Sonia Purnell paints a vivid picture of her ingenuity, her outstanding courage and the tests she had to face. Having set up the Resistance in France in WWII and daringly evaded capture by German forces, she deserves some time on the beach in the middle of nowhere. The most resilient risk-taker there was, she would set up an island paradise for us before we knew it – and I would get to practice my French.
Kazuo Ishiguro would be my third companion because in crafting his beautiful books he vividly illustrates the messy path through life that we are all trying to pick, affected by the baggage of the past and the conventions of today. They really strike a cord with me and could help me make better decisions.
Why are these characters and books so real for me that I would choose them as my companions?
In a word – believability. The setting, plot and characters are clear; there is nothing, when I read, that springs me back into my own head and world with the thought ‘Wait – does this make sense?’. Rather, the scenes develop with ever more detail and credibility.
I’ve had the privilege of reading books which have taken me on unimaginable journeys over metaphorical mountains and vast epochs, but the characters, setting and content – for either a brief or prolonged period – somehow defy physics, reason, history or all three.
In the end, however, I have to face the reality that these characters as I know them are just ink shaped and the island may not be a practical way to spend more time in these fleeting friendships But when these stories are expertly crafted, I could be anywhere in the world and still be smiling about just how smart and courageous Jane or Virginia can be.
I know a book is really good when I slow down my pace of reading and eke out the remaining pages, prolonging the inevitable end. The characters are no longer living and breathing, and the turning of the last page causes them to go from companion to memory.
Old friends to cherish, mourn and smile about. Ideal for a deserted island. I look forward to meeting many more.