I can remember reading The Island and having it remain with me long after I’d finished it. Like Hislop, my associations with leprosy had been mainly biblical and it wasn’t until I read her first novel that my knowledge of this debilitating disease and the impact that it had on families became deepened.
It has been some time since my first encounter with Spinalonga and Plaka and this book moves way from the impact of leprosy and centres more on the families and events which influence them after the first book ends. What you have here is a sense of the drama that can arise from the relationships and secrets that people keep in a family, whether that is infidelity or harboured grudges or the denting of honour and saving face.
I have to say that it was a good read although for me, it lacked the intensity of The Island, which I felt was an exceptional book. However, Hislop’s ability to take characters and weave a story is accomplished and with every chapter, I was keen to discover where the narrative was headed.
The book centres on Manolis and Maria, destined to be married in The Island but with time apart, finding that their loves lie elsewhere. A tragic event causes their worlds to be fractured in different ways, taking them in different directions and causing an emotional challenge, especially for Manolis, who finds that he can no longer remain on Crete and leaves for the mainland.
Maria is also thrown into a situation of which she never expected to find herself – that of motherhood and with this new role, she finds a joy that she felt would always be denied. Her faith is also strengthened as she resolves to confront the person who has caused a significant loss in their family; an unlikely thing to entertain especially due to the dramatic circumstances that led to it.
I think that the story of these families will be continued in a further novel as whilst issues were resolved that were presented in this book, it was quite open-ended in the way that it finished, with Manolis, in particular, heading to a substantial new life; with Maria, having the prospect of parenting a teenage girl, her desires and impulses having to be tempered, perhaps causing future conflict on the horizon for her.
I will look forward to reading it.