Review of ‘Island Dreams: Mapping an Obsession’ by Gavin Francis

Memoir, travel writing, psychology and poetry combine into an exploration of why islands appeal to us. I liked this book but I didn’t think there was much substance to it. Short, with very short chapters, it never goes deep enough into any particular location or subject to be a satisfying read. There are quite a number of historic maps included, which are mostly too small for close inspection but are nice to look at.

Gavin Francis contrasts his career as a doctor with the isolation he seeks on small islands, where seabirds and pilgrims are often the only company. He makes valid points about the balance between the peace we can find on real or metaphorical islands and the human need to be connected with the world. Being Scottish, it’s not surprising that most of the islands featured in his travels are Scottish too. Also included are Mount Athos (it’s a peninsula but feels like an island), Svalbard and the Faroes. Some other islands are included which he hasn’t visited. The focus is on those that appeal to him the most and which he has picked out literary quotes to match. He also writes about Alexander Selkirk, who was the inspiration for Robinson Crusoe.

I enjoyed the lyrical style of this book. I could feel the brisk sea air, hear the cries of gulls, sense the absence of people. However, I wanted more in depth travel writing and fewer snippets of literature.

First published in 2020 by Canongate.

7 thoughts on “Review of ‘Island Dreams: Mapping an Obsession’ by Gavin Francis”

  1. This sounds like an interesting book, and it is a pity that the author did not go into much depth on any topic. I am not a big fan of rambling, superficial books, but I do normally enjoy books by Canongate and love reading about travels and islands, not to mention being a bit of a fanatic when it comes to old maps. I notice that the island on the book cover is Stevenson’s Treasure Island? That is another Scottish author whose travel adventures I love.

    1. It did seem more superficial than I’d thought it would be. Canongate have some really interesting books, I agree. Old maps are fascinating. There’s a little about Treasure Island in the book. I like Stevenson too.

    1. I don’t think this book knows what it wants to be. But I agree the cover is very nice 😀

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