This week we returned from a wonderful two week holiday in Crete. It's the first time we've ever returned to the same resort, never mind the same hotel, and everything was just as good. When I was there two years ago, I was introduced to the writing of Victoria Hislop and read 'The Island' which she set in Crete and I mentioned it in my blog when I returned. The story is set both in the present day and in the 1930s and is about the leper colony on the island of Spinalonga where all Greek lepers were housed until it closed in 1957. It's a tragic tale of four generations of Petrakis women whose lives are affected by leprosy. I can remember how the book came alive as I was actually on the island when I was reading it. The landscape, the food and drink in the tavernas and observing the local people all added to my experience when reading it.
This time, we visited Spinalonga and learned more about the leper community that lived there. The first view we had of the island with its Venetian fort was from the boat after leaving Elounda. Its pale stone walls stood in stark contrast to the vivid turquoise of the sea.
What occurred to me was how close it seemed to the village of Plaka where the Petrakis family lived in Victoria Hislop's novel. As we walked up from the jetty, I was struck by the solemnity of the place as we entered the tunnel described in 'The Island'. 'Just about head height...it was a tiny opening in the pale expanse of stonework...the way into a long tunnel which curved away to block the view of what lay ahead at its far end.'
The scene confronting us when we came out the other side was just how Hislop had described the now semi-derelict streets and buildings, once typical of any Cretan village. As we walked around Spinalonga, it was as if we were re-reading the pages of the novel.
Our guide, Johanna, was very knowledgeable and gave us so much information about the island. She did mention the novel but almost dismissed it as 'just a romance', what ever that meant. But for me, the setting of the book is an essential part of the story and as I was listening to Johanna telling us the facts it was obvious that the author had done her research thoroughly before writing 'The Island'.
As I read about the strong resistance movement in Crete, I was reminded of Leah Fleming's excellent book, 'The Girl Under the Olive Tree'. Although a work of fiction, she has captured so well Crete in 1941, its landscape and why the Cretans fought for their land the way they did. We travelled to the museum through stunning scenery and I was conscious of how those hills hold so much history. The Cretan people would rather have hidden in freezing caves and risk death by cold and starvation than surrender. When Penelope, the main character, returns to the island for the sixtieth anniversary of the battle, she knows she will have to face her past and the extraordinary life she led on the island during that time.
The setting in both these books plays a very important part and visiting the places mentioned has added an extra dimension to my reading.
Have you enjoyed a book recently where the setting has played a vital role and enhanced your enjoyment? I'd love it if you left a comment and recommend some good reads. :-)
Thank you for reading . You may also follow me on Twitter @JanBayLit and on my Jan Baynham Writer Facebook page.