Robert Louis Stevenson wrote probably my favourite book ever, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, so naturally anything else written by him was going to draw my attention. However, how do you follow my favourite story ever?? Was I just setting myself up for disappointment when I sat down to read Treasure Island, a novel first published as a novel in 1883 after being released as a series between 1881 and 1882??
Pirates, buried treasure, battling with buccaneers and setting off on an epic adventure to a lost island…let me ask you, how do you think such a story would play out?? I think you’d agree that it would be pretty difficult for such an idea to be anything less than great, now as this comes from the mind of Robert Louis Stevenson, the mind behind The Strange Case of…(you know the title) I had very, very high hopes for this book…would this be another epic story that I would talk about with anyone who crossed my path??
Well, let’s open this book and see if it is a hidden treasure…
The story is told from the perspective of Jim, a young boy who lives at an inn with his mother and father. A old sailor calling himself “the captain” arrives and stays at the inn. He pays Jim pennies to keep an eye out for a one-legged seafaring man. During his time at the inn the captain (real name Billy Bones) is visited by two men, after the second man’s visit, Billy suffers a stroke and dies. Now as he owed the innkeepers money they decide to look through his possessions, one of which is a chest, within it they discover some money, a journal, and a map.
The local physician Dr Livesey deduces that the map is of an island in which a deceased pirate Captain Flint buried his treasure. The Doctor, and a number of others including Jim, decide that they need to buy a ship and go to the island and find the treasure. They hire numerous sailors and a man named Long-John Silver to be the ship’s cook…they naturally keep the full details of what they are looking for a secret.
Whilst alone on the island Jim meets a man named Ben Gunn that has been marooned for years. He agrees to join them for passage off the island and a share of the treasure. Soon after they arrive on the island, Long-John rallies the other buccaneers to mutiny against Livesey and his people in order to claim the treasure for themselves and murders two sailors who refuse to join his mutiny. Jim and Co take refuge in an old building and Silver tells them that all they want is the map, if it is surrendered they will leave in peace, claim the treasure then leave them marooned on the island.
As I read this as a download on my kindle I didn’t see this…
This is Stevenson’s design of Treasure Island and as this is new to me I’ll put it in this review just in case you read it on kindle too so don’t get to see this map.
I am not going to be able to do this review without comparing it to Jekyll and Hyde and one of the main reasons I liked that book was because if its length, the book was really short but nothing was out of place. It was as long as it needed to be, anything longer might not have worked, however, Treasure Island is a much longer story and herein lies one of my issues with it. Like a lot of novels written around this time period it is a very slow boil, the chapters which are told about Jim and his parents (before his father dies) about Billy being in the inn just seem to go on-and-on-and-on and honestly I was beginning to wonder if we were ever going to get to the fabled island.
Thankfully we do eventually get going and it is during the voyage to the island, Jim strikes up a friendship with the seemingly likable Long-John Silver, before later discovering to his horror that Silver is planning on a mutiny. Jim informs his allies and when they arrive at the island Jim and Co separate from the buccaneers, and take up arms against the pirates who want the treasure and are fully prepared to kill anyone who has it.
Sadly despite the premise, the book just isn’t very exciting, there is a lot of talking and for the majority of the story not a lot of anything else. We spend our time with Jim’s group as they fight to keep the pirates from killing them and stealing the map. The twist regarding the treasure itself was pretty good I have to admit but unfortunately there is so much waffle so unlike Jekyll and Hyde there is tonnes and tonnes of filler here.
Long-John Silver is like Captain Ahab in the sense that he is a legend of fiction but I did not find him especially engaging, he is the charming psychopath, utterly ruthless that may have been a unique creation in 1883 but by today’s standards he just isn’t that interesting. He only wants the treasure, that is his motivation, and he betrays anyone in order to safeguard his own life and passage off the island. Whilst you aren’t exactly rooting for him during the story, the ending does not leave you feeling like you have been cheated out of seeing him getting his just deserts. I can’t say that I especially liked or disliked his character but that may have been more to do with how much talking there is compared to action in this story because during some of the more lengthy speeches or monologues my eyes were starting to glaze over as I waded through the dialogue.
There can be no doubt that this book inspired the pirate genre in film and book, so in that respect it is timeless but as for the story itself I was not engaged because I didn’t form any attachment to any of the characters.
At one point Jim (who is telling the story) abandons his post and is able to single-handedly recover the ship from the two pirates still on board, killing them as he does so, then he beaches the vessel so his party will be able to escape the island once they get the treasure. When he finally returns, his party are naturally surprised to find him alive as they thought he was dead, but what really bugged me was the fact that he abandoned them, effectively leaving them to die at the hands of the pirates. He just needs to get away for a bit. But if they had all died because he wasn’t at his post then that is their blood on his hands, plus he doesn’t even seem to be especially bothered about potentially abandoning his friends to their fate.
Basically no one in this story intrigued me, I wasn’t glued to the pages like I was when I read Jekyll and Hyde, I read the story to the end and whilst I might read it again in the future just to see if I can try to like it more than I did during my first read. Sadly if I am reading it again to try and like it more it is obvious that I wasn’t a fan of the book. It was too long, it had way too much filler, and most of the time I was struggling to get through it.
Robert Louis Stevenson gave the world The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and for that I will be eternally grateful to him, however, I just didn’t really like Treasure Island, for me it was too long and took too much time to go anywhere. I don’t want to rate another of Stevenson’s work badly but like I have to judge everything on its own merits and so Treasure Island is getting a Thumbs Down.
5/10 – This is an average book and whilst I cannot say it is anywhere near to being the worst book I have ever read, I wasn’t a fan, however, having said that I would urge you to read it anyway because it is worth reading at least once.