Islands in the Stream

Have you ever had to do one of those god awful team building exercises where hypothetically, you’re stranded on a desert island with twelve objects and you need to rank them in order of usefulness?

At the risk of not sounding like a team player – if a boat I was on actually went down, there’s no way known I’d have my head together enough to think to save something useful like rope or army rations. I’d probably end up panicking, and choose to save a bunch of shot-glasses from the cruise gift shop.

Anyway, within classic and contemporary literature there are numerous depictions of island living, and what comes with being detached too long from the outside world.

And yes I know seemingly it all sounds brilliant – being on a lovely beach with your cornrows and some flirty lady-manatees, but it can actually get grim after a while. Just ask, Alexander Selkirk (the person who Robinson Crusoe was based) who spent four years stranded on an uninhibited island because he got into an argument with the ships captain. Yeah there’s a lesson for us all there – only call the captain a dickhead after you’re safely at your destination.

Here are some fictional islands I know about. Also I’m very sorry I haven’t read Gulliver’s Travels so sadly I’m unable to confirm whether Gulliver’s tinder profile name was ‘biggest on the island (;’

The Beach (Alex Garland, 1996)

1996 doesn’t sound like it was that long ago until the main female character has a dolphin tattoo.

The island in this book is a protected national marine park in Thailand, west of Ko Samui and Ko Pha-Ngan, which tourists are forbidden to visit. Specifically, its about a secret beach on this island that backpacker, Richard, and French tourists, Etienne and Francoise, go out searching for after being told about it by a man they knew only as ‘Daffy Duck’.

Spoilers – when they find the beach there’s a small group who live amongst nature and it all gets a little whingey and bitchy.

And Then There Were None (Agatha Christie, 1939)

This is a short read so its worth reading (…or just watching a BBC adaption). What happens is ten strangers with seemingly nothing in common are all invited to a small island off the coast of Devon and one by one they are systematically murdered as a type of justice for crimes they were never punished for.

One crucial flaw I noticed in the murderers otherwise perfect crime is that he killed the butler first. YOU FOOL! Who’s going to cook now you maniac? Save him til last!

Island (Aldous Huxley, 1962)

Journalist, Will Farnaby, wakes up on the mysterious island of Pala after a yacht accident. Pala is a utopia where individual enlightenment is the principle concern of society, and where they feel sorry for the mess of the outside world.

The Palanese people are free from materialism, and appreciating each moment is such a root part of their society that the birds have all been trained to repeatedly say ‘Attention’ and ‘Here and Now’ as a reminder to be present.

The Island of Doctor Moreau (H.G Wells, 1896)

Following a ship-wreck, Edward Prendick becomes stranded on the island of disgraced former surgeon Doctor Moreau.

Doctor Moreau has populated the island with humanized animals he has created through vivisection, and needless to say it wouldn’t be great for your confidence if you weren’t the most the attractive person on this island.

Literary Troublemakers Who Had Stellar Sarcasm & Fibbing Ability

As someone who despite logic, still worries deeply what other people think, I find myself very drawn to characters who just don’t give a single fuck. Here are a few big beautiful loudmouths from literature who knew what they were about:

Holden Caulfield (The Catcher in the Rye, 1958)

‘it was the Saturday of the football game with Saxon Hall. The Saxon Hall was supposed to be a very big deal around Pencey. It was the last game of the year, and you were supposed to commit suicide or something if old Pencey didn’t win’

When this book first came out, a lot of critics interpreted Holden Caulfield’s character as disturbed. Maybe this says something about me, but I don’t think that’s fair. Personally, I think this grey haired sixteen year old is a realistic embodiment of being young and thinking – yeah I’m pretty fucking smart and everyone else is an idiot.

Golden lines such as ‘almost every time someone gives me a present, it ends up making me sad’ or ‘I’m not too crazy about sick people anyway’; remind me for example, of my favourite comment to come out of my then 14 year old cousin’s mouth – ‘I hate having to tell old people that their food sucks’.

For those of you who are unfamiliar; in The Catcher in the Rye Holden has just found out that he is being kicked out of another school. He decides to leave early before his parents have been notified, and go to New York for a few days, giving his parents ‘the opportunity to thoroughly digest the news’ before he comes back.

I loved this book and I really wish I had read it while I was still in High School (cause it wouldn’t have hurt me to be ever so slightly, less of a goody-goody). A few of the reasons Holden is on this list include:

  • having pride in his lying ability – ‘I’m the most terrific liar you ever saw in your life’
  • Yelling ‘sleep tight ya morons!’ through the hall of his dorm in the middle of the night, as he left
  • His overall life philosophy against ‘phonies’

Ignatius J. Reilly (A Confederacy of Dunces, 1980)

‘Talc you have been found guilty of misleading and perverting the young. I decree that you be hung by your underdeveloped testicles until dead. Zorro’

I noticed that like Holden Caulfield, Ignatius also wears a hunting cap! I’ve reached the only logical conclusion that hunting caps have eerie powers, and fashioning one increases your brain’s wise-ass cells.

Anyway, if you’re a masters student like me, reading A Confederacy of Dunces might make you a wee bit self conscious – like, oh dear god!!!! do I ever sound like that when I choose to use a fancier word?

Ignatius J. Reilly is a highly educated yet unemployable thirty year old who lives with his mother in New Orleans, and is quite deluded regarding how important he actually is. Interestingly, he perfectly fits TLC’s definition of a scrub given he also can’t drive.

He is excessively sensitive; with his ‘heart-valve’ issue, and his refusal to let go of an incident where he got motion sickness on a bus (describing it as as one of ‘the traumas that have created my worldview’). However his sense of shame is dead.

Notable moments in the novel where I was in awe of Ignatius’ ability to not give a fuck include:

  • His attempt to initiate a militant style coup the at Levy Pants factory
  • Getting into a fight while working as a hot-dog vendor, in his pirate costume
  • Refusing to mark any of the student essays while he worked as a professor

Captain Yossarian (Catch 22, 1955)

[on inkblots] ‘you can save yourself the trouble doctor everything reminds me of sex’

Set during World War II; Yossarian is a pilot who has completed his set amount of missions, and wants to be sent home. Throughout Catch 22 Yossarian is attempting to be classified as insane due to the reluctance of his superiors to send him home. However  this is struggle due to Catch 22, which specifies that ‘a concern for ones own safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind.’

Yossarian’s ability to cause trouble for the higher authorities means, that for Colonel Cathcart, the ‘very sight of his name made him shudder’. Moments where he was a massive pain in the ass include:

  • Falling in love at first sight with a woman he’d never spoken to, and inadvertently initiating a ‘moaning epidemic’ during a briefing.
  • Boycotting wearing his uniform after a dying man bled all over him, and accepting his heroism award naked.
  • Coming up with dynamite questions in the educational sessions such as ‘who is Spain?’ ‘why is Hitler?’

I also love when he has to share his tent with youths, how he does NOT appreciate the nickname ‘yo yo’