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Orphan Island by Rose Macaulay

Orphan Island (1924)

by Rose Macaulay

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201515,329 (4.17)4

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"Polynesia and Cambridge were in many ways alike", 8 July 2016

This review is from: Orphan Island (Kindle Edition)
In the mid 1800s, a group of some fifty orphans set sail for an orphanage abroad, under the tutelage of Miss Charlotte Smith - a pious lady, much given to moralizing little verses. When they suffer a shipwreck en route, they find themselves washed up on a Pacific island, in the company of the hard-drinking Irish ship's doctor ("a papist by upbringing, an atheist by temperament") and a dour Calvinist nursemaid, Jean, the crew swiftly absconding with the boats...
Some seventy years later, a sociologist named Thinkwell - descendant of the errant first mate - comes into possession of his ancestor's deathbed confession, and a map of the island. Accompanied by his adult children - two sons, one literary and one scientific - and a moony teenage daughter, who just happens to have a secret fascination for South Sea islands, they set sail to see who - if anyone - is on the isle, and what kind of society they have created....
This is a superb read, witty from the first, but thought-provoking too, as one sees parallels between the problems on Orphan Island and those in Europe.
I much preferred this to Ms Macaulay's better-known 'Towers of Trebizond.' ( )
  starbox | Jul 8, 2016 |
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Miss Charlotte Smith, a kind-hearted lady of thirty or so, set forth in the year 1855 to conduct some fifty orphans, of various nationalities and all of them under ten years of age, from East London to San Francisco, where an orphanage had been provided for them by a wealthy philanthropist, who was so right-minded as to desire to use in this manner some of the riches he had obtained in the Californian gold rush of six years before.
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To cast away upon a remote island of the Pacific two typical spinsters, a bibulous Irishman, and a mixed party of some two score foundlings, in the eighteen fifties, and seventy years later to introduce to the curious society which has been formed an ultra modern family from Cambridge is the exquisite device that forms the nucleus for Miss Macaulay's new novel. A freak of circumstances has preserved on this island the semblance of Victorian culture, and the problem of whether the Post Georgians will conquer it or conform to it offers a subject for fascinating speculation that gives full play to Miss Macaulay's wit and wicked satire. Her Orphan Island, in effect, becomes a miniature England, with its class war raging in full blast, and its group of malcontents hurling impresactions on the reigning powers from a neighboring islet that has been named "Hibernia." The interlopers from modern Cambridge have a fearful time becoming acclimated, and the islanders' various reactions to twentieth century refinements make delightfully amusing reading, pungent and graceful, with a spontaneity Miss Macaulay alone can attain. The climax of the book is sensational. (Jacket copy from the first American edition, 1925, Boni & Liveright)
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