Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Napoleon's Last Island

Napoleon's Last Island by Thomas Keneally
Atria Books: 10/4/16
eBook review copy; 432 pages
ISBN-13: 9781501128424

Napoleon's Last Island by Thomas Keneally is a recommended historical fiction novel of Betsy Balcombe's account of Napoleon Bonaparte's banishment to the island of Saint Helena.

The story, written as journal entries, opens with Napoleon's death, as told by a British teenager, Betsy Balcombe, who befriended Bonaparte and then goes back to October of 1815 when Napoleon Bonaparte was first exiled to St. Helena, an island governed by the English. He is taken in by William Balcombe, a representative of the East India Company who is the provisioner of goods on the island. Bonaparte stays in the guest house because his resident wasn't ready. Napoleon and his small French entourage are well provided for while with the Balcombe's. He and Balcombe's daughter, Betsy, eventually become friends. When St. Helena’s new British governor, Sir Hudson Lowe, arrives, he is determine to make Napoleon's stay on the island painful and closer to being imprisonment. He also makes the Balcombe's suffer for their hospitality to Napoleon. The family struggles after their association with Napoleon, and move to Australia..

The formality of the language in the journal entries helps set the period tone for the novel. While it is technically well written and full of accurate, period details, and some interesting facts, the novel starts out strong and later slows down, especially as it details Betsy's growing up. The problem is that Betsy is not interesting enough to carry the story and after time the novel becomes slow and tedious. As noted by other reviews, there is some fictional ridiculousness and some obvious prejudice shown by Keneally toward the British, which lessens the impact of the rest of the narrative.

Disclosure: My advanced reading copy was courtesy of the publisher for review purposes.

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