It isn’t hard to see why literature has had such an affinity with islands. From Homer to Pratchett – via Swift, Defoe, Golding and Ballard – they offer microcosms, archetypes, fantasies, allegories, metaphors and utopias various. There are holy isles, prison colonies, hospital outposts, castaway crags, runaway boltholes, living laboratories, places of ostracism, escapism, treasure-seeking and despair. I have spent much of my adult life island-hopping, and occasional work has appeared everywhere from the Stornoway Gazette to the journal of the Kiribati and Tuvalu Philatelic Society: if that doesn’t qualify me as a nesophilic hack, then I might as well hang up my rusty rowlocks.
Readers expecting a feelgood gazetteer of romantic destinations will be brought up short by the subtitle to Judith Schalansky’s extraordinary and excellent book: ‘Fifty Islands I Have Not Visited and Never Will’. A recent bestseller in her native Germany (she designed and typeset it herself), Atlas of Remote