Magazine article The Spectator

Paradox in Paradise

Magazine article The Spectator

Paradox in Paradise

Article excerpt

FARAWAY

by Lucy Irvine

Doubleday, L16.99, pp. 371

Being summoned to write somebody else's story, particularly when they are still alive, cannot be easy. Even when the writing involves living in a gold and blue paradise on the edge of the Solomon Islands, only a fool would find the prospect less than daunting. Lucy Irvine, who has previously written about her year on Tuin Island with her 'husband' Gerald Kingsland in Castaway, is no fool. But even she cannot make the story of Diana and Tom Hepworth as interesting as her own story. Like Irvine, the Hepworths chose an unconventional path, living firstly on a boat, then buying a Melanesian island on which to bring up their children. However, essentially, neither the dead Tom nor the still living Diana are very interesting people. Brave and determined, certainly; even, possibly, tragic in their inability to see themselves as others will see them. Moreover, their exclusive, enduring love for each other is admirable. But leading an unconventional life cannot make you interesting on its own. You need to be interesting too. The Hepworths are not. Diana is too cold and humourless and Tom too like Victor Meldrew.

Nevertheless, Lucy Irvine is to be admired for attempting to make the best of her material. She has loyally stuck to her brief, even though, reading between the lines, she felt constrained by it. It is clear, for example, that it would have been far more interesting to her and to the reader had she felt able to write more about the reaction of the islanders to the Hepworths rather than the other way round. Equally, it is the Hepworth children who provide the human interest, caught between the rigid and (despite their physical adventurousness) completely conventional 1950s British manners and opinions of their middle-class parents and the equally strong Kastoms (customs and traditions) of the islanders amongst whom they were brought up. …

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