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Review: Luminous Isle, by Eliot Bliss


Pages: 372
Original date of publication: 1934
My edition: 1984 (Virago)
Why I decided to read: AV/AA
How I acquired my copy: September 2011, London

Luminous Isle takes place in Jamaica in the 1920s, where Emmeline Hibbert has been raised. She returns to Jamaica after years spent in England and is immediately thrust back into the colonial life: parties, tennis, and polo matches. But Em’s real interest and focus lie in the Island itself.

Eliot Bliss’s writing style is incredibly philosophic; Em is an extremely introspective character, as well as introverted, so we get snippets of her thoughts that go somewhat like this:

People who felt dull when they were alone could not really be people; they were parts of ideas rushing about the world looking for the other parts--that was what must have been meant by 'looking for your complement'--they didn't seem to think it was unflattering to be considered unrelated pieces of a jig-saw puzzle. P 76

Each life is a private world; an experience private and peculiar to the individual soul who passes through it. To each person who is born into the world, the world in their own particular reality and undiscovered sphere… Nobody could see the world through one’s own eyes except oneself… seeing the world afresh through her own eyes; realizing for the first time this phenomenon, and that one ought never to allow the ideas of other people, who had already formed their own tidy conclusions about life, to be thrust in between oneself and one’s own vision of the world.” Pp 98-99

The life of personal freedom, of thought and feeling, and on occasion of action, she knew now to be more essential. P. 183

There’s nothing really simple or straightforward about Bliss’s prose, which I totally loved. Em has strong ties to the past, and she is incredibly independent, which lends her an air of detachment from the rest of her peers. Although she tends to spend time with the natives, there is little physical description; rather, the reader gets the essence of place rather than the details. It’s a powerful novel that in one sense explores the power that the memory holds over a person’s perception, imagination, and identity.



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