It must be many people's dream to be stranded on a desert island but what would it be like if it became reality? It would not take long for the dream to turn into a nightmare especially if you had to share the island with six strangers and very few provisions. This is what happens in Stranded, Emily Barr's latest novel, which is a fabulous read from start to finish. It is tense and thrilling and the sort of book that keeps you guessing all the way through.
In Stranded, Esther has escaped to Malaysia to get over the end of her marriage. She is heading for the Perhentian Islands which she hopes will be as idyllic as it has been described to her and a place to refresh and clear her mind. Although she is travelling alone, most people are very friendly, especially Katy, another lone traveller. They decide, along with five others to take a boat trip to a remote island, but when Samad, their guide fails to return, they realise they are stranded.
As days pass and there seems little hope of rescue, they have no alternative but to fend for themselves. As far at they no, there is no hope of rescue and they will have to spend the rest of their days on the island speculating about what may have happened to them. It's all very sinister though and if they are ever to be rescued, what will happen then?
I think that Stranded is a brilliant book and is definitely Emily Barr at her best. The story builds gradually but in such a clever way that you have to keep reading more. I did wonder, when the seven characters were stranded on the island, where the story could go in the remaining 300 pages and I was a bit worried that it might be a bit slow. I needn't have been concerned though, as there were some thrilling turns of events that kept me on the edge of my seat and there was definitely at least one shock that I didn't see coming.
Stranded' is written in the first person and is told from Esther's point of view. This works very well as it means that the reader only sees and knows what she does. Therefore, we are as mystified as she is when Samad fails to return to the island, and we tend to trust the same people as she does. We also only know details about the others that they choose to share with Esther. Also, as she is telling the story, the reader is able to share her despair especially at being parted from her daughter, Daisy, with no way of knowing what she is thinking.
I really enjoyed reading Stranded. It's absorbing; it's surprising and it is very cleverly written. It's a must for all Emily Barr fans and would be a great introduction for anyone not yet familiar with this fabulous author.
Stranded by Emily Barr
Published by Hedline Review, May 2012
With thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy.
This review has previously appeared under my named at www.curiousbookfans.co.uk
I had read one of Emily Barr's previous novels (Baggage) some years ago and been impressed with her writing. It was always in the back of my mind to read something else, but despite my good intentions, I never quite got round to it. I rectified that recently when I read her latest novel 'Stranded', on the recommendation of a friend.
Esther Lomax is newly divorced. She has done nothing of significance with her life apart from marry a man who wasn't really suitable and have a lovely daughter. She decides now is the time for a bit of adventure and books a trip to Malaysia, which includes a stay on a group of paradise islands. Malaysia is where we first join Esther, as she finds her way around Kuala Lumper and to the islands. Alongside Esther we read about another lady called Cathy, and hear her story told in the past. I will say no more about that element of the story, but it keeps you guessing as to the possible connection between the two characters. Whilst on her island, Esther and some of the other guests sign up for an 'unofficial' boat trip organised by one of the staff at the resort. He leaves them on a paradise beach and pops back for a lighter to light the barbecue. He never returns.
I really liked how the 'stranded on a desert island' aspect was dealt with. It wasn't romanticised - people were hungry, thirsty, ill, tearful, optimistic, pessimistic and everything in between trying to come to terms with their situation. Their circumstances seemed to be handled realistically and their theories as to why they were stranded seemed viable. They certainly matched with my own expectations and opinions. However as they stayed there longer, these theories no longer held water and factions formed in the group as some became more resigned than others to their plight. We learn a bit more about the other people on the island, but we do not get soul-searching, clichéd back-stories. This is a suspense book and you have no more idea how the book will pan out, than the fictional characters within its pages.
I have deliberately kept the plot aspect of this review vague, so as not to spoil it for anyone. Looking back over what I read, now I know the outcome I realise how clever Ms Barr was in her clues and signposts. I did not guess the final outcome, although I had plenty of theories. If I was to be picky (and I will be), there were aspects in the conclusion that I found a tad too far-fetched and thought the ending got slightly rushed. That aside I thoroughly enjoyed the book, I couldn't wait to pick it up in the evening, and at the same time I didn't want to put it down, which says a lot about the calibre of the story and its writing. It is not a heavy or deep read, in fact it is a very easy read, plus it is also engaging and gripping, as well as a good mystery. It would certainly make a good beach read, but I don't recommend taking it on a boat day trip as you will be reluctant to get off the boat!
As I was reading this I thought it worthy of the full five stars, but I am deducting a star for my quibbles regarding the conclusion. The RRP is £7.99 but offers can be found on Amazon and other sites. It is also available in kindle format and audio form.