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Canvey Island Paperback – 2 Apr 2007


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Product details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC; New edition edition (2 April 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0747585830
  • ISBN-13: 978-0747585831
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 2.1 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 303,728 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

`I had hours of understated pleasure with Runcie's Canvey Island' -- Helena Drysdale, New Statesman, `Books of the Year'

`Runcie writes with an excellent feeling for time and place, and,
above all, the intensity of ordinary lives' -- Choice

`Runcie's third novel is a funny, epic, moving story of Thameside
folk ... a beautifully observed, tragi-comic work' -- What's On In London

`This book had me hooked before the end of the first sentence, and
its characters stayed with me for weeks afterwards ... excellent' -- Wendy James, New Books

`This is an accomplished, restrained novel of class and personal
conflict, with some great lines and a lovely eye for period detail' -- Robert Colvile, Observer

From the Publisher

This is a moving family saga and a rich portrait of
contemporary England

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Customer Reviews

3.7 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Adrienne Blaquiere on 30 July 2007
Format: Paperback
I agree with the last reviewer - I was hooked on this book from the start - and would add just one more "negative" point of my own. I worked on the island for ten years, and as far as I remember, no-one says "in Canvey"; they all say "on Canvey". Other than that, a great, convincing read, and it really took me back.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By R. Ward on 2 Mar. 2010
Format: Paperback
I loved this book. I found it thoroughly absorbing and couldn't put it down. It's easy to read, subtle, sensitive, truthful and at times achingly sad, with characters who are flawed and utterly believable. I'm so glad I read it and look forward to reading more of James Runcie's writing.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Ignite TOP 500 REVIEWER on 6 Sept. 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This book begins with the true story of the flooding of Canvey Island in 1953 when dozen of lives were lost. Naturally, the consequences of this live on in the families affected and young Martin, who lost his mother, is one such. The interwoven lives of his father, Len, his Aunt Violet and Uncle George are scrutinised and are not what they appear on the surface. George has never recovered his mental health after the war. Martin is determined to study hydrology so as to prevent other such accidents occurring.

This story was beautifully told through ordinary lives put under the spotlight. I enjoy James Runcie’s written style and the fact that he delves into motivations. I began by disliking Violet yet grew, as she did, to appreciate her. I liked young Martin but found him a cold, difficult to like person as he grew older and his love-life became more complex. The weaving together of these stories was skilfully done. A very good read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Anglo-Irishman on 5 Jun. 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This is a well-observed account of life during the related decades, with sound characterisation. The themes make up for the lack of strength in the plot; but, then, what sort of strong plot would such prosaic lives offer? There's nothing sensational, just ordinary lives lived as best they can with mistakes and successes like anyone else's. I found its verisimilitude uncomfortable, but who wants to be complacent about real life, for that is what the author presents. It's rather sad because it makes one think that perhaps most lives don't make much of a difference. Nevertheless, it is the cumulative effect of all those ordinary lives that make the difference, and perhaps that is the main lesson to be learned from this book. Prepare to be interested, but not to be thrilled or intrigued, and think about your own life and what you do with it.
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Format: Kindle Edition
Our copy of Canvey Island, discovered on a campsite book exchange, was ex-library and had been mislabeled on the spine as biography. I didn't realise this until I was about to start reading it so my thoughts over the first few chapters were probably affected by expecting a true memoir rather than a fictional tale.

Canvey Island begins during the real-life flooding in 1953 which caused considerable damage and loss of life all along that part of the British coast. I remembered having previously watched a TV documentary about it. Our young 'hero' Martin describes finding himself alone, swimming through the flood waters to safety, but having been forced to leave his mother trapped en route. Each chapter is told from a different point of view with the various family members taking turns to advance his story through the following decades. While I have read other books where this device works well - The Spinning Heart springs to mind - I wasn't so convinced here because the characters aren't all strongly defined. I thought Aunt Vi, Claire and George had distinctive voices, but the others morphed together. I was particularly disappointed that Martin seemed bland. His life seemed more to happen around him than because of him.

I liked reading the well-researched periods of the flood and its aftermath, and also about the Greenham Common Encampments. Runcie has obviously taken time over the small details in order to make this historical side of the novel accurate. Perhaps it is a bit heavy on the nostalgia and the racist incidents, while undoubtedly realistic, make for uncomfortable reading. As a tale of family deceptions and intrigue, Canvey Island is pleasant enough and I would recommend it for a cosy winter read!
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Format: Paperback
A quite large piece of reclaimed land on the Thames Estuary, Canvey Island has always been prone to flooding. In 1953 the floods caused the loss of 58 lives. This book is based on a series of characters created by James Runcie, representative of the people who lived on the island. It opens on the first night of the flood and one of the major characters, Martin, a boy of around six at the time, is one of the most important voices. The book is suffused with the music and the attitudes of the 1950s in the early chapters, and follows each of the characters' lives. They are ordinary working class people for the most part, although Martin grows up wanting to "stop the water", perhaps unsurprisingly as his mother is one of the flood victims, and eventually he goes to university and becomes an engineering graduate.

These stories are evocative, often haunting, as past transgressions by older members of the family come to light, and there is a somewhat tortuous love triangle that grows up when Martin's wife Claire, goes off to be a Greenham Protestor, and the abandoned Martin encounters his first love, Linda, again. This is a set of tender and robust family memories that will resonate, especially for anyone who was young in the 1950s and 60s.

3.5 really, to be absolutely fair, but I did like it.
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