Friday, 11 April 2014

John Dollar by Marianne Wiggins

This is a review also for Book beginnings on Fridays hosted by Rose City Reader.

They appeared with the sun at their backs on the rest of the hill after daybreak, black figures, threading their way towards the sea through the grey rocks and heather into the town of St. Ives.
The old Indian descended first, leading the donkey on a tether; Charlotte rode across the donkey's back. Charlotte's hair had gone from gold to white when she was rescued from the island years ago, and it fell around her now, wild and full and loose, because the Indian had thought it looked its best that way.

I grabbed this book in a haste from my TBR shelves. It seemed the perfect size, perfect size of letters (yes, I have difficult reading too small scripts these days!) and it had been with me since 1989! At least I think so, because I can remember I bought it when it came out and it is printed in 1989. 25 years and what a waste for a fascinating book! I was hooked from the first paragraph and chapter and this does not happen often.

The story in short: Charlotte Lewes is widowed during the First World War after a short marriage. She feels lonely and alienated. She does not fit in where she is in London and in desperation she applies for a post as teacher in Rangoon, Burma. She sets off on this trip with no high expectations, she feels numb from grief and loneliness. She does not like the expat community, she feels outside there as well. They live their lives far from the reality in the country. She likes her girls in school, she gets to know the country and lives quite locally and then she meets John Dollar, a sea captain, and she falls in love.

One day the community sets out in three ships to chart a small island around 100 miles off the coast. John Dollar and Charlotte are there, the school girls and some of the parents with servants. They are off for charting the island for the English king and intends to stay for three days. It starts all very quiet and pleasant but then things start to happen. One boat goes back to the city to bring back people to investigate a find they make (I will not tell what), one boat is found empty one morning by John Dollar but blood shows that something terrible has happened. At the same time there is an earthquake and a tsunami.  The third boat hosts John Dollar, Charlotte and the school girls. After the earthquake is over the girls find themselves all alone and have to start organising and taking care of themselves. Maybe there are other survivors?

Not to spoil anything I will leave the story there. It is said that Marianne Wiggins was inspired by Golding's Lord of the Flies and was interested in what would happen it there were girls that were ship wrecked rather than boys. I also thought about this book while reading this one, but must say I like this one better. I can't say exactly why, but I simply loved this book. It just took me over and it is told in a way that makes you feel you are there and you are really part of the story. The girls who are used to each other, form groups of their liking. Two take over the charge, others go for themselves and a half Indian, half English girl is called Monkey and is always an outsider. However, as the story evolves and times get harder the girls are changing as well.

This is a book where you get the overall of the story already from the beginning but it is only until the very end you get to know what really happens. If you look at Goodreads' reviews you will find that people either love or hate the book. It is cruel and violent at times but somehow still represents how the world is and how people can act. I think this book will go down as one of my favourite ones.


  1. I like the beginning, it somehow sounds very free! I do wonder how 'Lord of the Flies' would work if they had been girls but it is almost more interesting if the genders are mixed.
    Thanks for sharing :) I hope you have a good weekend!
    My Friday Post
    Juli @ Universe in Words

  2. You make this sound like an interesting book to read. You can check out my Friday Memes here:

  3. I was not previously aware of this book but I am now adding it to my To Read list. It sounds very intriguing from your description. Great review!
    Happy Reading,
    Rebecca @ The Key to the Gate

  4. Hi Juli,
    As we see in this book at least, and I think that it can be true, girls can be as nasty as boys in situations like this. A mixed gender 'population' would be interesting and I think that the problems then will be quite different from persons of the same sexes. With a mixed gender population other problems will arise, competition of the boys/girls, jealousy etc. But it seems that in all situations like this you always have some of the people who take charge and others that follows and others still that go their own way like some of the girls in this story.

  5. Thank you Rebecka, yes it was quite a surprise for me as well. It is well worth a read. Some books just go to my heart right away and this is one of them. It does not happen that often!

  6. She does look unhappy in the cover photo.

    I think this book sounds good. I am going to check it out and hopefully will be able to read it soon.

    Have a great weekend.

    Silver's Reviews
    My Book Beginnings

  7. Hello Elizabeth,
    I am sure you will enjoy it. No, you are right, she does not look very happy. Maybe more dreamingly...?