When I started Women Who Live on Rocks over 5 years ago, the point wasn’t to discourage people from moving to an island. Quite the opposite. Island life charms my socks off and it’s hard for me to picture ever not living on an island for any length of time. One of the original purposes of this site was more to add a touch of reality to the perception of life on a rock – to show what’s really behind the stunning sunset pictures and poke some holes in the paradigm of “paradise.”
People who live on an island often get irritated by the preconceived notions others elsewhere hold about their lives. The expectation that everything must be perfect, stress-free, and lackadaisical in your life simply because you live on an island can make anyone feel indignant – particularly on the more trying of island days.
Today’s featured book was written in a similar vein. It takes an island dreamer and spits him back out as an island realist… all with the it’s-so-ridiculous-you’ve-just-got-to-laugh-at-it humor we love here on this site.
If you’ve read the featured book too, be sure to leave a comment below or on our Facebook page – we can chat about it and it’ll be like our own island-style book club!
Note: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links, which means that if you click on them and choose to buy something, it won’t cost you anything, but I’ll get an itsy bitsy commission as a thank you for sharing something cool with you.
The book: Don’t Stop the Carnival
Written by: Herman Wouk
Originally published: 1965
Don’t Stop the Carnival is iconic in the island space. It’s a book many people go so far as to say is “required reading” for anyone thinking about moving to an island. It’s also a book people re-read several, if not many, times over the years. This was my third time reading it, and it’s been at least 6 years since my last read, so it felt both familiar and fresh at the same time.
This book is interesting in that you experience it differently depending on what timeframe / stage of island living you read it in. If you read it before you moved to an island, you might find yourself relating to characters who you later don’t connect with at all once you’ve spent some solid years residing in the tropics.
This time, I happened to re-read this book right around the same time as my friend, Liz from The Adventures of Island Girl, who was re-reading it for her second time. She first read it before she moved to her island, Bonaire, and this second reading is 7 years into her island life. She made an interesting observation about the ending (no worries – it’s not a spoiler) about how when she first read the book, she felt both surprised and disappointed in how it ended. She thought his ultimate decision made no sense. This time, as a seasoned island girl, she totally gets it… unfortunately.
For me, what seemed borderline preposterous when I first read the book as an island newbie now feels, at times, like it almost cuts too close to home…
For 5 years, I lived on a tiny island resort only accessible by boat, very similar to the fictitious Gull Reef Club. My boyfriend David is the General Manager there, running the show just as the main character Norman Paperman is tasked with – though David is far from the inept hotelier/ recent island transplant that our protagonist is. As someone who has experienced this lifestyle directly, this book had me seriously stressed out at times. Times like when his cistern is about to explode (all that expensive water wasted and hotel guests without water!), to the unfriendly government official threatening to shut him down, to a potentially murderous ex-employee stalking the island during a high-profile event… I almost feel like this book needs a trigger warning. This may not be the best book to read if you’re feeling burnt out on island life or if you’re in the throws of a particularly trying island job. Things that are intended to be comical will come off as far less funny to you.
One other warning – this book was originally published many decades ago and much of its language and general perspectives are sorely outdated. For one, the Caribbean people in the book are more like caricatures rather than fully developed characters. A lot of the island-speak and treatment of these characters is racist and hard to take. Also problematic: its treatment of women and the LGBTQ community.
Overall, this book is very well-written with vivid characters you won’t soon forget. The fact that it’s so relatable its painful at times speaks to its continued relevance.
Readers who will love this book:
Basically anyone with any attachment to a tropical island. If you live on a rock, used to, want to, or simply dream of it – and because you’re here on this site in the first place – you’ll no doubt connect with some aspect of this book, even if it’s just for pure entertainment purposes.
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Have you read this island classic? How do you feel it stands the test of time?
And have your opinions of it changed over the years that you’ve lived on island?
In case you missed the first post in this series, check out An Embarrassment of Mangoes.
If you’re a fellow island reader and would like to connect on all things books, you can find me on Goodreads. I even have a shelf of island related books, which I plan to cover in future posts like this one.