Brief synopsis (Goodreads): Inspired by the midcentury memoirs of Frances Conway, Enchanted Islands is the dazzling story of an independent American woman whose path takes her far from her native Minnesota when she and her husband, an undercover intelligence officer, are sent to the Galápagos Islands at the brink of World War II.
Amid active volcanoes, forbidding wildlife and flora, and unfriendly neighbors, Ainslie and Frances carve out a life for themselves. But the secrets they harbor from their enemies and from each other may be their undoing.
Rating: Island collection
Long story short (no spoilers): Enchanted Islands has become one of my favorite books this reading challenge. There were a couple of issues I had with the pacing, but overall the story is compelling (what makes it cooler is that it’s based on true people and true events), and the character development and their interactions are well written.
I don’t remember where I originally read the synopsis (probably on the Book of the Month website), but the story turned out to be really different from what I was expecting, in a good way. I’m always hoping a book surprises me by eschewing typical tropes and plots, and Enchanted Islands definitely did that. The narrative is unique; it’s not at all a spy novel or thriller, but it doesn’t lack action or suspense, just that most of it is introspective. It also has a slightly melancholic and brooding tone, which I found refreshing.
I also like when books (and TV shows, movies, and video games) have a simple story and complex characters. This allows the audience to focus on the important things, like human interaction, self-reflection, and growth. The people in Enchanted Islands were so interesting, and after reading A Game of Thrones it was really nice having a book with just a few characters to keep track of. And they were such wonderfully flawed, wonderfully human characters. I can’t remember the last time I felt such empathy for figures in a novel (especially when they’re being difficult).
The biggest critique I have for this book is its pacing. The story is divided into four parts and is told as a flashback by a much older Fanny. In some places the author, Allison Amend, spends too much time talking about a relatively short period in Fanny’s life and then glosses over decades in a few pages. After knowing her so intimately during her formative years I felt left behind as Fanny aged within what appeared to be a matter of minutes. At the end of the book it seemed like we still had unfinished business…
Despite the choppy timing, Amend did a good job of balancing Fanny’s dialogue in the past with her narrative in the present. I especially liked the moments when the story was punctuated by Older Fanny’s self-reflection. Reading those made me feel like her confidante, and I grew more invested in her character.
So, have you read Enchanted Islands? Is it on your TRL? Keep reading for a spoiler review!
Long story long (SPOILERS!): There were a few notes I jotted down as I read the novel, things that made me pause and wonder. They aren’t really questions, but I figured this would be a good place to share them:
- I would have really liked to hear more about Fanny’s time in Nebraska and San Francisco. She refers to her work with Mrs. Keane often enough that some more background would have been nice. Being part of the Suffrage Movement definitely sounds interesting.
- The idea that adventure can come calling at any time, any age, is comforting!
- I went from not understanding why Fanny gave Rosalie the time of day after everything she put her through to realizing how time and distance away from someone you’ve loved once can blur the line between fury and forgiveness.
- Ultimately Fanny settled for someone she loved but could never be intimate with. She made peace with her decision even though she wanted something more. I think those of us coming of age in today’s FOMO and YOLO culture don’t really understand the concept of “settling”, which is not always a good thing and not always a bad thing. There’s an interesting article on the concept of “good enough” being good enough, which is worth a read if you have the time.
If you’ve read Enchanted Islands did any of these thoughts resonate with you? What were some of your own wonderings?