Last year I read and reviewed the Island of Adventure TV tie in novel, and it was about as dire as I expected. I mean, the source material, the 1990s TV series was pretty terrible so it would have been difficult to make a good novel out of it, but instead they somehow made it worse.
I’m only reading this as I have had it on loan from the library for more than two years and feel bad about returning it without reading it. So if I have to endure reading it I’m not wasting the opportunity to rant about it here.
Could this actually be OK?
Leading with a shocker here – this book is not as bad as the Island novelisation. I’m aware that doesn’t say much, but honestly, it’s definitely better. The writer is different for this book – in fact there were seven writers for the eight books.
One thing I noticed is that one element works better in the book than on-screen which is ironic. When they arrive in New Zealand for their holiday Lucy-Ann complains that it looks just like England. In the book this makes perfect sense as you can assume that Lucy-Ann is English and lives in England. On TV with the Mannerings and Trents both having New Zealand accents, it makes a lot less sense. (As does the fact that the other episodes are also filmed in New Zealand…)
The book is also able to make the storm more convincing describing the heavy rain and strong winds in a way that are more in-keeping with the original book, but couldn’t be created on-screen.
Comparing the episode to the book
It is nearly impossible to do a read along as the episode plays as so much has been moved or changed, far more than I would have expected even though I’ve already read a novelisation of the series.
The episode opens with Perez and his henchman in their lair (yes, it’s as Bond-villain-esque as that sounds what with the shark tank in the background) before moving to the airport to see the Mannerings, Trents and Bill arriving. The book switches these two scenes around.
It also pads out just about every scene, extending sentences within dialogues, adding entirely new dialogue in addition to the natural requirement to describe the locations, characters and their actions. I assume that simply adding descriptors like said Jack, and Lucy-Ann picked up her suitcase to the screenplay would make for a book far too short, and even so this one only comes in at 142 pages. Hence the additions.
The good thing is that on the whole these additions are done well. There is no prize-winning or impressive writing, but what is added mostly fits with the characters, the plot and so on. It seems perfectly natural and for someone who has only watched the episode a couple of times (once all the way through and a second time in bits and pieces as I reviewed it) I couldn’t spot what was original and what had been added.
I would say that the book makes the villains a bit more blood-thirsty than they appear on screen. On-screen Perez does call for an enemy to be terminated and they grin and high five when it happens but the book has Bruce grinning because he loved to kill people.
Quite a lot of scenes are moved around as well, particularly the cutting back and forth between the children and the bad guys, though it’s not desperately obviously why. Various little bits are also cut, such as Allie’s phone call with Sir George, Jack crawling around the cabin under the rug, the girls nearly hitting the boys as the enter the cabin and so on.
There are a few clunkers, such as
the man – whose name was Davey – took the lift
His name really isn’t important, let alone important enough to be shoved into that sentence. However the book also adds that Davey bribed a night porter to get a key for Bill’s room which is a nice additional bit of background info, and helps explain how he got into the room.
Some of the scenes are quite basic in the way they describe the conversations and action – very much he did this, he did that, then he did something else as if the writer has just watched the episode and described what they saw, but there are just about enough other insights to break it up.
Davey entered the room. He wasted no time. He pulled out a chair and stood on it so that he could reach the lamp hanging from the ceiling. He took a small listening bug out of his pocket, and attached it to the lamp. Then he replaced the chair and left the room, leaving no evidence of his ever having been there.
On screen Davey ‘wastes time’ checking the drawers and looking at Bill’s passport. I assume this is a necessary device to make sure the viewers know whose room it is. In the book it has already been established that it is Bill’s room, so the passport is not required. However the writing becomes choppy – and not in the fast-paced way Blyton excelled at. The last sentence about leaving no evidence at least brings something new to the scene for us, though on-screen he leaves by the balcony so a sentence saying that he left that way in case Bill or anyone should be coming back up to the rooms wouldn’t have gone amiss.
The text describes the manager as the snooty manager rather than finding a perhaps more sophisticated way of describing the manager as being snooty.
Disappointingly the text also includes the line really, girls knew nothing at all, which I assume is to be attributed to Philip as he was the last to speak, but also sounds as if it’s the view of the author/book, or just a plain fact. On screen Philip gives no indication he’s thinking any such thing.
On-screen after the tents blow away we see the children walking some distance and climbing across rocks and then finding the hut. In the book this doesn’t come across so well as they say they’ve already explored most of the island but had seen no kind of shelter, then suddenly they see the hut. Then later, when the men search the island they see the remains of the campsite, and literally look around from there and see the hut in the distance. Again, on-screen there’s at least some suggestion the men walked along the beach.
Lastly, towards the end of the book the narrative reads
it was obvious that Bruce and Davey were heading for one of the many small islands on the horizon but it was essential they discovered which one.
Although not a direct quoted thought it’s clear this is the boys’ thinking as they watch the men, but they had no way of knowing the men’s names!
It’s hard to judge this book, really. The adaptation it is based on is not great, so it will never be a great book. However, I think it did as well as it could with what it had to work with and the changes made generally work, leaving something that is actually readable and adds a little to our experience of having watched the episode. For that, I gave it two stars.