When our heroine, a twenty-something English graduate working a series of dead end jobs, including librarian at a pet library, chances across a copy of Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island. Being at a place in her life where she is looking for guidance, she decides to start living according to what she considers the book's core values: BOLDNESS, RESOLUTION, INDEPENDENCE and HORN-BLOWING. The results are destructive and often hilarious.
When Roxane Gay mentioned this novel in an essay in her book Bad Feminist I knew I had to read it because it seemed to be written specifically for me. I have a bit of a thing for Robert Louis Stevenson. When in my twenties I was working one of my own post university dead end jobs in Edinburgh I found myself literally down the road from his childhood home, which inspired me to re-read Treasure Island. When I finished it I packed up my battered paperback copy and took it back to Australia with me, where I discovered I had another copy already, and kept them both. Since then copies of the book have continued to multiply in my house seemingly on their own. When I see one at a book sale or secondhand shop I don't seem to be able to walk past it, somehow forgetting for the time it takes to hand over the money that I already own this book many times over. Last time we moved house I found we had nine of them and I briefly considered keeping them all and putting a copy in each room of our new home and telling visitors they were our holy book. The idea of someone actually trying to live by the book's "teachings" couldn't fail to get my attention.
Robert Louis Stevenson's childhood home in Heriot Row.
Treasure Island!!! had me hooked from the first page, which hilariously parodies the style of the original. The rest of the book is not like that but is no less engaging. The unnamed heroine is a thoroughly unlikeable, reckless (bold?) irresponsible individual. Many reviewers seem to dislike the book simply because they dislike the heroine, but since as I didn't have to actually hang out with her in person or entrust her with looking after my pets I found her very entertaining.
The writing style was evocative and poetic at times, as in this sample from page 26:
We kissed, and the kiss was a wrecking ball; walls crumbled, plaster sifted, a grey bird flew through the dust and emerged white as snow. What a heap! Later somebody from the salvage department would come by and look for usable, well-conditioned pieces of me.
Treasure Island!!! is a black comedy about a woman whose obsession with a book makes her in equal parts insufferable and fascinating. It's a strange book that is simultaneously funny and very uncomfortable to read and for a while I was undecided whether I liked it or not. On balance, I really do, and I will keep thinking about it for a good while after putting it down.