Hippolyte’s Island

“He loved this point in travel, the very beginning, the moment when the decision to go hit his heart and his gut, when the whirl of topography careening through his brain burned his feet, when the fine lines of maps tangled themselves around him like a net and drew him up and away, when his mind traveled the world before he even walked out the door.” (pages 5-6)

I’ve not been able to travel a lot… mostly just to some surrounding states (and usually to hunt down some elusive ancestor), although I did spend an afternoon in Canada a few years ago.  So I guess to make up for a lack of personal experience I love read to books about travel – both fiction and non-fiction.  One of my favorite fictional travel stories is Hippolyte’s Island by Barbara Hodgson.

101“The sky was putting on an amazing show: bright, huge stars, twinkling fiercely in a code only they could understand.  Whether it was a trick of atmosphere, a gift of the utter blackness, the nature of South, or a combination of all three, the Milky Way revealed itself exquisitely.  Now, more than ever, Hippolyte understood the sensation of reaching out to touch the stars, of tugging on the visible cord that they are all strung along and sweeping them down around him and watching them dance upon the rise and fall of the waves.” (page 75)

Hippolyte Webb is an avid traveler and as the story begins he is ready for his next journey.  This isn’t going to be an ordinary trip though.  This time he’s looking for the Auroras, a group of islands that may not even actually exist.  As he sets out on his adventure, you really get drawn into his excitement with the illustrations and Hippolyte’s log entries.  The trip itself doesn’t take up much of the story (the beginning deals with him getting ready for the voyage and the end is about him working with his editor on his book) but it is well-written from start to finish and a very beautiful book!

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From The Cover: Craving a new adventure, Hippolyte Webb, quixotic traveler, writer, and natural historian, sets his sights on the Auroras, a group of tiny islands in the middle of the South Atlantic.  His destination wouldn’t be so unusual, except that these islands were last spotted almost two hundred years ago. Equipped with outdated charts, an inadequate sailboat, and an advance for a book about his quest, he heads for the Auroras-and finds more than he ever imagined.  But the challenges that he meets on his voyage are nothing compared to those that await him when he returns.

Marie Simplon, his non-nonsense book editor, is appalled by Hippolyte’s strange tale and wants nothing to do with the Auroras-or with him.  However, as he inudates her with centuries-old maps, sketches, and specimens from his journey, she is drawn against her better judgment into the mysterious details of his experiences in the South Atlantic. The two are soon joined in a race-Hippolyte to prove that his islands exist, Marie to refute his claims. Marie finds herself succumbing to a tide of conflicting emotions about the journey and the man, and she realizes she must embark on her own quest to discover for herself the limits of logic and the power of belief.

Just One More Thing: “She guided him into a plush, windowless boardroom deep in Rumor’s bowels and flicked on a reading lamp, its light cunningly placed as though to burn a hole through his manuscript already lying there. Either she wanted him to work, or she wanted to set his work on fire.” (page 195)

This Edition: Hardcover published by Chronicle Books (2001)

Other Illustrated Novels By Barbara Hodgson: The Lives Of Shadows, The Sensualist

You Might Also Like: The Selected Works Of T.S. Spivet by Reif Larsen

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