Napoleon is endlessly fascinating. A man who fought on the side of a republic and yet had himself installed as an Emperor. A man who conquered much of Europe but didn’t know where to draw the line. A man so feared by people who finally defeated him that they incarcerated him on a tiny island in the middle of a vast ocean. St Helena was NAPOLEON’S LAST ISLAND, this book takes an historical fact to weave fiction.
Betsy Balcombe was the tearaway teenage daughter of William Balcombe, providore for the East India Company on St Helena. News that St Helena is to be the new Elba filters through to the island. Accommodation suitable for a deposed Emperor is not available and so the ‘Great Ogre’, as Napoleon was known, took up residence in the Balcombe’s summer house. A friendship springs up between the Balcombes and Napoleon. The imperial retinue and the additional soldiers to guard them mean more business for Mr Balcombe, everything seems rosy.
What follows is a tale of a claustrophobic man who oozes charisma, a girl on the cusp of womanhood, an empire determined to crush its vanquished enemy and the tittle tattle of small island life. This was a book that I really wanted to read and expected to rip through the pages. In fact I found it slow going. That is not to say that I didn’t enjoy it, just that it didn’t keep me reading deep into the night. I learnt lots. In my imagination Napoleon was alone, except for his guards on St Helena, he lived in a two room hovel and it was just him and the military. Wrong. In reality he had a retinue of trusted friends with him, St Helena had a small but bustling community and he lived in some style.
Would I recommend NAPOLEON’S LAST ISLAND? Yes, if you like history.
NAPOLEON’S LAST ISLAND by Thomas Keneally
Published by Spectre
Price £8.99 paperback, £5.99 Kindle
DISCLAIMER: I was sent a copy of Napoleon’s Last Ilsand by the publisher in return for an honest review.