Four has always been the magic number - three is a crowd and five is too many too characters to follow. There's Little Women – Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy (Die Amy Die)-Sorry, I digress, and of course Pride & Prejudice. Then we have contemporary versions-Sex and the City and Lipstick Jungle. The number four has been a magical in terms of women’s commercial literature and The Island by Elin Hilderbrand is no different. The only difference this time is that you have two generations, each trying to indulge the eccentricities of the other.
Birdie is in the twilight of her life having had the courage to boot out her indifferent husband in exchange for freedom, a new found set of rules governing the single life and an acrimonious relationship with her eldest daughter, Chess. Don’t you just love how American names instantly conjure up acid washed shorts, lithe bodies and blond hair? Anyway, Birdie invites her daughter to a week’s holiday to their dilapidated family home in Tuckernuck- an idyllic island where the birds poop honey and everyone is deliriously happy without running water, to bond before Chess’s impending nuptials. The engagement falls through and Chess- think prom queen with a bad attitude, shaves her head and extends the week into a month. The younger sister, Tate, comes along for the ride along with Birdie’s own sister Iris, who has her own steamy life to contend with at a ripe old age. Oh and there is a man, Barret, who comes in and throws it all out of sync as if it wasn’t already. Old memories soon begin to tiptoe out of the closet while new skeletons come out doing the salsa and a lot of cat- fighting ensues.
Anyone who has a sister or an extremely close female friend will acutely relate to the constant undercurrent of sisterly emotions like possessiveness, envy, loyalty, vindictiveness’ and that eerie awareness of each other which is mostly irritating but always useful. She manipulates these emotions perfectly to develop her story.
And there is the Island, Tuckernuck- a privately owned island in Nantucket that Hilderbrand calls pure and simple and without any static from the outside world. The house plays an important part, each bedroom owning a space in the novel that tells us more about the character. Hilderbrand starts off a little sloppy, the dialogue a little predictable, but soon she sucks us in with fantastic detail, an evolving mystery and snappy repartees between the two sets of sisters. She leaves us clues like little breadcrumbs and we find that we really do want to know how it ends. This is a fantastic monsoon read as you are stuck in on a rainy day with a glass of wine or a cuppa tea.