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Island Dreams Reviews

Island Dreams by Gavin Francis

Island Dreams

Mapping an Obsession

Gavin Francis

4.30 out of 5

6 reviews

Imprint: Canongate Books Ltd
Publisher: Canongate Books Ltd
Publication date: 28 Apr 2020
ISBN: 9781786898180

An exploration of isolation and connectedness based on thirty years of travel, from the Sunday Times bestselling author of Adventures in Human Being and Empire Antarctica

  • The BooksellerEditor's Choice
5 stars out of 5
Caroline Sanderson
14 Feb 2020

"Beautifully illustrated throughout, it's an enchanting meditation on rest and motion, independence and attachment, and what these mean in our hyper-connected world. "

Blending stories of his own travels with psychology, philosophy and great voyages from literature, the wonderful Francis seeks to shed new light on the importance of islands and isolation in our collective consciousness. He muses on how his youthful life of wandering freedom contrasts with his current settled and responsible existence as a doctor, community member and parent approaching middle age. Beautifully illustrated throughout, it's an enchanting meditation on rest and motion, independence and attachment, and what these mean in our hyper-connected world. 


4 stars out of 5
28 Nov 2020

"Francis is extremely well-travelled ... but it is the other people that give Island Dreams its charm."

We meet “isle-o-philiac”s of all kinds: a Zimbabwean nurse, Greek monks, a Canadian with an ambition to perform a magic trick on every inhabited Scottish island — as well as literary and historical figures. The lure of treasure features heavily, but island containment, quarantine and imprisonment are not ignored. Francis also includes fictional islands, such as Thomas More’s Utopia. There is even a traffic island.

4 stars out of 5
Erica Wagner
25 Nov 2020

"A doctor's odyssey is a reminder of the trials and wonders of solitude. "

And yet Francis’s far-flung travels to the poles and to distant islands bring him “distance and perspective… the chance to feel part of a world somewhat emptied of the human”. Here is silence and the space for contemplation. For many of us over these past months – and in the months to come, no doubt – that sense of silence and space has been overwhelming, unfamiliar, unsought. Island Dreams provides a reminder of isolation’s wonders, as well as an extraordinary tour of some of the most remarkable places on our precious Earth. 

4 stars out of 5
Caspar Henderson
21 Nov 2020

"combines memoir from a lifetime of travel ... and reflections on how islands illuminate his own life and the human condition"

Island Dreams reflects the range and depth of his memories, skills, understanding and humanity. Francis describes the book as “a simple but sincere cartography of my own obsession with the twinned but opposing allures of island and city, of isolation and connection”. And, like the paediatrician Donald Winnicott, whom he cites several times, he explores paths towards psychological and emotional health.

4 stars out of 5
3 Oct 2020

"The book examines the push-pull dilemma —the ‘tension between isolation and connection’"

Island Dreams draws on a host of fictional and historical figures who have found themselves properly marooned. Robinson Crusoe, Ben Gunn and Alexander Selkirk all grappled with survival, cut off on remote islands. Their accounts became bestsellers because of the simple question they pose: how would we cope in such a situation? In his elegant, questing book, flavoured by wide learning and deep experience, Francis offers a fresh look at a perennial paradox: whether we live gregariously in a city or remotely on an island, a part of us is always wondering and fantasising about the other.

4 stars out of 5
Allan Massie
1 Oct 2020

"Gavin Francis has created a delightful hymn to the many attractions of islands, taking in science, history and religion"

There are so many riches and delights in this book that there is scarcely a page that does not invite quotation, so I can best advise that you buy it and treat it as an anthology or a box of delights. It will set you dreaming and have you thinking.