Selkirk's Island (VOYAGES PROMOTION) Paperback – 3 Jul 2003
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Diana Souhami's Selkirk's Island is not the first book about the extraordinary, real-life adventures of the Scotsman, Alexander Selkirk--that credit must go to a rather better-known book, Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe. Nor, doubtless, will it be the last. But it might be the best. Diana Souhami's book commands superlatives for every reason. The author of previous, outstanding biographies, including the prizewinning The Trials of Radclyffe Hall, Souhami has produced a marvellous account of what life was like on the remote, rain-swept (not desert) island of Juan Fernandez. Selkirk chose to remain on the island in 1704, when he sensed that the piratical voyage he had joined himself to was sinking fast. His shipmates sailed on and left him. For four years he survived in total solitude, hunting the wild goats on the island and clubbing them to death, building a hut from the branches of sandalwood trees, and making fire with dry sticks. Souhami brings everything to life with vivid, imaginary vignettes: "A boa constrictor arrived coiled in the hollow of a cut tree. It had journeyed from Brazil for seven weeks over choppy seas. The tree washed ashore with the turning tide. It sloughed its skin and danced alone." When at last two ships sailed into Juan Fernandez's tiny harbour, quite by chance, they found a bearded, savage-looking man, who could only utter the one word: "Marooned!" Souhami is brilliant on the natural history, on the physical details, on the sheer, intractable character of the material world that Selkirk had to deal with--and all these things demand that you, the reader, ask yourself: "Could I have done this? Would I have survived?" This is what makes Selkirk's Island compelling, fascinating reading, and the three double-page colour photographs of the island are breathtaking. --Christopher Hart
Christopher Hart. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
SELKIRK'S ISLAND by Diana Souhami FMCM Again we are setting an end of month press date for this title with confirmed publicity in Guardian My Life In Writing (20/4), The Herald's My Favourite Book (4/5), and BBC Radio 4 Open Book (21/4) and Excess Baggage (13/4), with local radio including BBC GMR and Austrian Broadcasting Company plus BBC World Service's Outlook (25/4). Plus the shelflife interview for The Scotsman (27/4). And reviews are now coming in: 'This book not only illuminates Selkirk's five years as a solitary castaway - the experience inspired Robinson Crusoe, though Defoe did not include any reference to sexual congress with goats - but also probes the circumstances that led the disputatious Selkirk to this predicament and what happened to him afterwards'Independent "The gripping and true story of Alexander Selkirk, more famous as Defoe's Robinson Crusoe." Daily Telegraph "His story still holds thefascination that inspired Daniel Defoe to write Robinson Crusoe... meticulously researched." Daily Mail 'To Souhami, the island itself is a character, its flora and fauna and dramatic weather changes so evocatively described...Butshe is good at all levels: delving into contemporary sources she explores Selkirk's aggressive, resourceful and complex character, and writes vividly of the horrors of shipboard life and the venality of some of those who set sail in search of riches'Sunday Times Souhami tells the story of the real-life Robinson Crusoe in terse, well-judged prose, and explores some of the ambiguities of his exile: although desperate to be rescued, he also achieved a kind of spiritual at-oneness with the island. She also provides many colourful details about eighteenth-century sea-life: the horrific illnesses and injuries, thevicious squabbles, and the general contempt for human - especially non-British - life'Observer 'Souhami's research into contemporary political and maritime matters is admirably wide ranging'The Times "Whitbread biog of the year, Diana Souhami's examination of Alexander Selkirk and Robinson Crusoe is a glittering assembly." Time Out - Paperback of the Week. '...an unusual and engrossing book...It is a great tale and Souhami tells it crisply and well.'Sunday TelegraphSee all Product Description
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Top Customer Reviews
What an opportunity missed.
What dreadful maps and illustrations.
What a 'bitty' style. Nothing was gained from this 'only one idea per sentence' approach.
What a dull book when there was plenty of source material available.
Such an absence of good background information.
Such unnecessary guesswork as to Selkirk's state of mind.
Although titled 'Selkirk's Island', the bulk of the book concens life at sea, which it portrays as truly terrible. Crews were generally made up of misfits willing to endure terrrible hardship for the promise of Spanish gold. Scurvy, hunger, illness and death were the more likely rewards.
I found the evocation of life at sea more compelling than the one chapter devoted to Selkirk's time on the island. Overall though, the book is a good balance, offering a vivid insight into the life of a seaman as much as into Selkirk himself.
With diligent research and hands-on experience of the actual island, she conjures up a vision of Crusoe's home which is not too different from the almost idyllic place that Defoe described.
With beautiful, almost poetic prose, the island, its topography, streams, flora, fauna and appearance are described with graphic imagery, taking one THERE in one's mind.
The explorers (mostly privateers) who used the island as a base are also described in great detail, particularly Dampier,with whom Selkirk sailed. Salutary tales of others marooned, barely surving, precede a description of Selkirk's own marooning, requested in a fit of pique and immediately regretted.
We see how he lived, not too uncomfortably, thanks to his family trade and experience as a seaman, but there are some lurid tales of bestiality - be warned.
We then read, in a protracted sequence, how he is rescued and arrives back in England in glory, then descends into obcurity. His story is taken up and embellished by Daniel Defoe ... The rest is history.
Ms.Souhami visits the island and sees for herself where and how Selkirk might have lived and, as a tail-piece, recounts how conservation authorities are trying to restore the island to its pre-Selkirk condition. ****.
Not only are we introduced to the main protaganists in Selkirks life such as Dampier a cowardly Sea Captain but we are enlightened on the botany and geography of the island including its current occupants.
A well researched study that is highly readable albeit brief.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
A bit of a slow beginning but soon becomes compulsive reading. The detail is outstanding without ever becoming tedious. Read morePublished on 13 Nov. 2013 by Robert O. Davidson
Stumbled on this book via a reference from Stephen Taylor's Caliban Shore. I am fascinated by the savage nature of maritime life three hundred years ago, this book certainly gives... Read morePublished on 29 Jun. 2013 by RMCT
This is a biography of the man and the island. I enjoy Souhami's quirky style and short choppy sentences. Read morePublished on 14 Jun. 2012 by KAW
My advice to anyone considering buying this book is to go ahead and do it. It will be money well spent. Read morePublished on 20 Oct. 2003