Review: The Coral Island
I’ve always wanted to write a story to do with a shipwreck and a desert island. A tried and tested formula you would argue and I would agree with you. I still harbour thoughts of this type of story but not until I’ve come up with something a bit different which may never happen. R M Ballantyne’s The Coral Island is your traditional shipwrecked sailors on a remote island with many exciting adventures thrown into the mix.
The novel focuses on three teenagers – Ralph Rover, Jack Martin and Peterkin Gay – who are the only survivors following a shipwreck in the Pacific Ocean. Ralph is our narrator and he recounts some extraordinary adventures as the teenagers become accustomed to life on their remote coral island. What begins as a paradise idyll soon becomes a harsh reality as the boys encounter both pirates and Polynesian tribes. The question is can the boys survive and will they ever get home?
Ballantyne’s story gets going very quickly. Ralph briefly describes his home in Scotland but all too soon he’s on board a ship and setting out to sea for many months. After their ship is wrecked on a coral reef, the boys come to an uninhabited island and soon settle into a comfortable life. They find ample fruit and wild animals, which they successfully hunt, build a shelter for themselves and even a boat. Ballantyne describes every young boy’s dream of carefree adventure and though the teenagers do long to be home they are certainly in no rush while they await rescue.
Things change when the boys realise they are not alone on the remote island and they start to get frequent visitors. Warring Polynesian tribes that commit appalling atrocities against each other are the first concern but these are superseded by the arrival of bloodthirsty pirates. By this point the boys have located an underwater cave which makes for a great hiding place though they have the problem of Peterkin who is not overly fond of being underwater! The story develops further as Ralph is captured by the pirates and whisked away from the coral island leaving Jack and Peterkin behind. How will Ralph get out of this one?
The Coral Island is a pleasant and enjoyable read full of adventure in the early stages but then addressing some more serious issues such as the warring Polynesian tribes and later the work of missionaries in their efforts to bring Christianity to the rest of the world. Conflict plays a big part whether its tribal rows, pirates against the native tribes, or even religious divisions. Of course, it all works out well in the end but it’s a good read all the same.
The Coral Island is a fun read full of adventure in distant lands, a seemingly island paradise but one tainted by local warfare. There are some surprisingly dark elements to the story which ground it in welcome realism but it’s not detrimental to the great adventure the three teenagers enjoy.
(Book source: reviewer’s own copy)