Blessed Isle by Alex Beecroft

Why I read it:  I picked this one up from NetGalley – I enjoyed Shining in the Sun (my review is here but you’ll have to scroll down a bit) and have False Colours on my TBR (… must get to it…).
What it’s about:  (from Goodreads)  For Captain Harry Thompson, the command of the prison transport ship HMS Banshee is his opportunity to prove his worth, working-class origins be damned. But his criminal attraction to his upper-crust First Lieutenant, Garnet Littleton, threatens to overturn all he’s ever worked for.Lust quickly proves to be the least of his problems, however. The deadly combination of typhus, rioting convicts, and a monstrous storm destroys his prospects . . . and shipwrecks him and Garnet on their own private island. After months of solitary paradise, the journey back to civilization—surviving mutineers, exposure, and desertion—is the ultimate test of their feelings for each other.These two very different men each record their story for an unfathomable future in which the tale of their love—a love punishable by death in their own time—can finally be told. Today, dear reader, it is at last safe for you to hear it all.

What worked for me (and what didn’t): I don’t think I can adequately express how beautifully written this book is.  So I shall give you some examples of what I mean:
The spray tangled like silver lace about the yellowhaired, screaming woman of Banshee’s figurehead.

Night fell with the lazy downward drift and sheen of a falling magpie feather.

The sky curved like hammered gold above, and across it flew, cawing like crows, a flight of birds so blue they looked like little machines of enamel and brass, too vivid for life.

 My back and arms passed through cramping and into pain, and thence to a kind of thin, red, torn sensation, which distracted me splendidly from my riot of unproductive emotions.

The descriptions are so beautiful.  In another kind of book, perhaps they could have been overwrought. But not in this one. Set in the late 1700’s/early 1800’s the language sets the time and place so well, and lets the reader know much about the characters.  Just from the words they choose to write.
The book is unusual in that each chapter is from one of the men’s POV but it is written in the form of a journal.  I’m not entirely sure it qualifies as second person narrative because the “you” is the reader rather than the other character (I need my friend Liz to tell me whether it is or not).  What makes it most unusual, in my opinion, is that each chapter is informed by the previous one – Harry starts, Garnet reads what he has written and continues, including little messages and teasing jibes in the text, Harry then continues, having read what Garnet has written and so on and so forth.  The style is both conversational and intimate as well as being intended for an unknown audience at some point in a possible future.
Hearing from both characters, seeing each of them reflected in the writing of the other, the reader gets insight into how each man see himself and is seen by the other.  Each man has a distinct character and voice, with Harry being more stoic and slightly stodgy and Garnet being on the flighty and fun side (though that description does him a disservice – he is much more than that). The love they share, the essential importance of that love to their happiness, shines through the pages.
I thought I saw a different me in them, a man I liked better than I had liked myself hitherto.
Their story is full of adventure on the high seas, personal sacrifice and joyful love, in a time when they could not be open about it, where, if caught, they would face death by hanging.  It was bitter that they could not be free even in Rio about their relationship, but sweet that they found in each other, someone worth the risk.

 “To me . . .” Harry turned his head to watch as salt in one of the branches burned up with a hissing, blue, ghostly light. His voice was very calm and sure. “To me, this is the reality. Out there they make us pretend. They force us into lies or hiding. Here I’ve been free to be myself for the first time in my life. You and I, it’s the first honest thing I’ve ever done. And that’s because this place has given me the freedom to do it.” 

A little sigh of amusement mingled with melancholy. “Your prison is my refuge.”

I would have happily read more about this pair – they certainly had many years of adventure together that could have been documented.  The book is romantic without being terribly explicit, with the sex mostly hinted at but it is written very intimately so I didn’t feel the lack.    I did think that the end of the book came abruptly; I noticed that things sped up toward the end.  There was a lovely pace to the book, not lazy and not quite languorous but smooth and flowing without rushing and that was lost just a little right at the end I thought.  There were plenty of trails down which this pair could have led me willingly.

Still, it was a beautiful book and it has made my saying that A grades are unicorns somewhat of a lie given that it is not even the end of January and I have now given out three of them (although you won’t see one for some months yet).

What else? Thank you to Mean Fat Old Bat (whose is misnamed, I’m convinced) for reminding me that this was on my TBR and I really needed to read it immediately instead of in a few weeks from now.

Grade:  A-

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