Book review: Island Dreams

Fiona Baskett is a retired GP in Wiltshire. She is on Twitter: @FMB_fiona

Mapping an Obsession.

Isolation. Connection. Two words that have striking resonance after a year in which many   have felt compelled to evaluate relationships, sense of community, and mortality. Global pandemic aside, isolation and connection have been recurring themes for GP author Gavin Francis over thirty years, describing them as the energising poles of his life. In Island Dreams, he maps his own obsession with the twinned but opposing allures of island and city, of isolation and connection, taking the reader on a voyage which blends memoir, legend, and historical fact.

….the value of isolation in an increasingly connected world.

Francis’ fascination with islands began as a small boy when he would watch the winking lighthouse on the Isle of May, and pore over atlases in his local municipal library. The obsession has seen him cross continents and travel from North to South Poles appraising the value of isolation in an increasingly connected world. He interweaves his own experiences, such as seeking solace in a monastery on Athos, with fascinating facts from history and literature, such as the tale of marooned Scottish mariner, Alexander Selkirk, the original Robinson Crusoe. His prose is immersive, his descriptions, like that of the aurora borealis, like marbled endpapers spread over the book of the sea, captivating.

City life may feel more isolating than island living where the connection with community and nature is stronger.

Chapters include titles such as: Reverence, Transformation; Peace and Imprisonment; Books of Distant Lands, with each section illustrated liberally with maps. Throughout the book the author aims to find resolution between isolation and connection but wrestles with the paradox that city life may feel more isolating than island living where the connection with community and nature is stronger. Reflecting on his role as a doctor, a community member and parent he concedes that while medical practice offers a ringside seat to all the bustle and brilliance of humanity, islands, whether spiritual or geographic, offer space for recalibration. There is, however, the acknowledgement that a condition of island life might well be the capacity to escape it.

At a time when travel has been curtailed, books offer an escape of their own. For anyone seeking solace or space for contemplation, this can be found between the pages of Island Dreams.

Featured book:

Island Dreams by Gavin Francis. Canongate Books; 2020. ISBN-13 : 978-1786898180


Featured photo by Tom Winckels on Unsplash

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