Hippolyte’s Island, by Barbara Hodgson
Posted December 11, 2010on:
Hippolyte’s Island by Barbara Hodgson is not a normal book.
So this is not going to be a normal review. But I’ll do the best I can.
Hippolyte Webb loves to travel. He makes his living selling travel articles to magazines, and spends every sent of his savings to travel even more. From his home in the pacific northwest, he decides his next adventure will be South. Very south. He spends months researching, planning, taking a boating course, and on ancient maps he finds the Aurora Islands (these is/are real Islands! they used to be on maps up till about the early 1900’s, but these days they don’t show up). Out past the Falklands, past the edge of the world, the Aurora Islands began disappearing from maps, and Hippolyte has decided he is going to find them again. Single minded to the point of suspected mental illness, he ignores almost everything around him – friends, neighbors, cleaning his apartment, everything but his goal to find and document the Auroras.
But how to finance the adventure? Hippolyte contacts a publishing friend and manages to get a huge advance on a book he is going to write about his adventure. Bags packed and plans made, the very single minded Hippolyte sets out to find the Auroras in the south Atlantic.
Hippolyte goes on a journey, photographs penguins and flora and fauna until he runs out of film, records elaborate descriptions of the grouping of islands he finds. On one island he even finds a grave, which means there was someone there once to bury the guy. After a handful of boat troubles, he manages to get back to the mainland to submit his manuscript.
This is where things get a little strange, in almost a Griffin and Sabine kind of way. He did go somewhere, and he’s convinced he went to The Aurora Islands, but his records are foggy and incomplete, and his manuscript is sloppy and unfocused. Did he really go where he says he went? Does is matter? Which is more important – finding something, or the experience of looking?
At the publishers, the manuscript is given to an editor, Marie. Marie isn’t sure if this is supposed to be travelogue, fiction, or comedy, and Hippolyte refuses to answer her questions in a coherent manner. Hippolyte’s Island starts out as a character study, evolves to a solitary man on a dangerous adventure, and ends as a humorous and insane dialogue between editor, publisher, and a very single minded author. I have no idea how to categorize this book. General fiction? Fictional travelogue? Inadvertent humor? Regardless, it was a very compelling read, and I finished it over a weekend.
Did you notice all my photos? (ignore the ugly apartment carpeting please!) the book is peppered with handwritten diary entries, photographs, sketches, maps with notes on them, all sorts of wonderful and unexpected illustrations. If you’re looking for something a little different, something relaxed yet entertaining, give Hippolyte’s Island a try.