Isle of Joy

Don Winslow, Isle of Joy (1996, Arrow Books 2008)

Here’s more genre fiction in print form instead of the more congenial moving pictures, this time a spy thriller of sorts. Apart from a prologue, the action takes place in New York City in the last week of 1958. It’s not a meticulously recreated period piece: someone talks about exchanging bodily fluids fairly early on, so anachronism-haters are warned off, and though the list of shows on Broadway is almost certainly correct, it remains just that, a list. The main character goes into a theatre showing Orson Welles’s A Touch of Evil, but there’s no sense that either he or the author has seen any part of the film.  It’s not a period piece, but it does play around tittilatingly with the historical record. A  charismatic, womanising New England Catholic senator who is about to run for president against Richard Nixon is having an affair with a big-breasted blonde Hollywood actress. Though the Senator’s name is Joe Keneally and the actress is Marta Marlund, we know who we’re talking about. Or we think we do until about the half way point …

It’s a solidly constructed murder–intrigue–espionage machine that’s a bit too slow to get going and shows its workings a bit too obviously. The characters are mostly functional rather than interesting in their own right, there’s some unconvincing unconventional sex, and a tedious, incomprehensible football match that makes me appreciate all over again the brilliance of Jasper Jones‘s cricket match. It’s probably a book for committed fans of the genre. I don’t go much beyond Le Carre, and this didn’t make me want to change my ways. On the other hand, I didn’t feel like throwing it across the room, and the complex threads of the second half of the book were enough to keep me reading when I should have been asleep..

2 responses to “Isle of Joy

  1. Would you really call Marilyn Monroe big-breasted? I would say she had an excellent and extremely feminine figure, but I wouldn’t be inclined to call someone big-breasted unless they were top-heavy — whereas she is perfectly proportioned. She’s just too dainty to be big-breasted, I think. She wore a surprisingly small dress-size, I have read, and deliberately wore her clothes too small to give an impression of tipping out of them. And yes, this is a very odd argument to initiate. One might even call it tangential.


  2. shawjonathan

    You’re probably right. Cassandra. But didn’t Audrey Hepburn also have a feminine figure? And if you take her as a benchmark my implied description of MM is correct. The book does focus on its MM’s breasts, and ‘extremely feminine’ doesn’t quite capture the effect.


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