Tim Bowler on a book that has such fluency of expression it is a joy to read…
Treasure Island is a joy of a book. I first read it when I was ten and I have read it at least once during every decade of my life since. My most recent voyage with Jim and Long John was two months ago and the story felt as fresh and true as when I was a boy. It has everything – unforgettable characters, an exotic setting and a thrilling quest.
The prose ripples faster than Silver’s tongue. Stevenson says he wrote the first half of the novel on a wave of inspiration, completing fifteen chapters in fifteen days, but then he lost his way and it was a while before he rediscovered it. When he did, he found to his relief that the rest of the book flowed from him ‘like small talk’. It is Stevenson’s fluency of expression that makes the writing such a pleasure to read.
The novel is not flawless. In my opinion, Doctor Livesey’s narrative jars against the central viewpoint and the plot is advanced in a couple of places by choices I do not believe Jim Hawkins would credibly make, e.g. to desert his friends in the stockade. But I don’t care. The seaman with the sabre-cut is already plodding down the lane. In a moment he’ll reach the Admiral Benbow Inn, rap on the door with his stick, and it will all begin again.
Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson is published in many editions. The cover shown is from the Templar edition, illustrated by Robert Ingpen (978 1 84011 114 9, £14.99 hbk).
Tim Bowler’s latest book is Bloodchild (Oxford, 978 0 19 271980 5, £12.99). His previous book, Blade: Breaking Free, is now available in paperback (Oxford, 978 0 19 275558 2, £5.99).