Reviews from Lord Taylor of Glencoe
Treasure Island: Robert Louis Stevenson, April 2—4, 2016
My rating: ♦♦♦◊◊
Treasure Island is a perennial classic, and in a way that’s fitting. It’s not good, it’s not bad. It just is.
Generations have known Robert Louis Stevenson’s story of Jim being swept up in a pirate adventure as setting the mould for all pirate adventures to come. Received wisdom is, Mr Stevenson basically gave Disney Captain Jack Sparrow. But in fact, there were plenty of pirate stories around before Treasure Island, and plenty after. Quite why this one took off is a bit of a mystery.
Rather a lot of the book takes place before anyone’s toe hits the water. In fact, hapless Jim and his spineless parents play host to a pirate called Billy at their pub, Admiral Benbow Inn, which in a roundabout way sets off a chain of events that really didn’t require such a slow-burning, dull build up.
Once we’re afloat, it gets a bit more interesting. Timbers and shivered, plants are walked and, of course, people are jolly unpleasant to each other. But none of it is written in an entirely engaging way.
Stevenson’s decision to give Jim the floor narration-wise backfires when Jim is absent from the whole chapter. Thus, the narrative is taken up by Dr. Livesey, the subtitle somewhat suggesting they’ve all sat round sometime later and written up an account. Or else they’re writing it ‘live’ as they go. Either way, kills the suspense a bit.
There’s no question that there’s a decent story in there, and some important characters. But Treasure Island works much better when treated as source material, to be developed by more skilled writers.