Posted by: Lisa Hill | July 18, 2016

Desert Island Books, a survival guide

WildlightA little while ago I received a request that was dear to my heart: Robyn Mundy (author of Wildlight) is planning a sojourn on Maatsuyker Island.  She and her husband are going as volunteer caretakers and weather observers, and (as you know if you took my advice and read Wildlight) they will have no access to email or internet.  Naturally, she needs books to read, and she asked me to suggest 15 contemporary novels that I would wish to read if cast away on a remote island for 6 months.

This got me thinking about criteria for selection.  Clearly Desert Island Books must be able to withstand re-reading, and they need to be long enough, at least, to last the distance.  But there’s more to it than that….

I’ve always said that Ulysses by James Joyce is my Desert Island Book because I’ve read it four times and each time I’ve found new and interesting aspects to it.  Robyn needs a book that is similarly intriguing.

Recommendation No 1: The Weaver Fish by Robert Edeson.

But over a period of six months, my moods would change, n’est-ce pas?  I would have at least one row with The Spouse, maybe more, or I would get fed up and irritable about the weather, or I would regret the whole deal and want to come home.  For those days I would need something to take me out of myself, something to give me a bit of perspective, something to restore my equanimity.

Recommendation No 2: Isabelle of the Moon and Stars by S.A. Jones

Robyn is obviously more at home in remote windswept rain havens than I am, but even she must surely get nostalgic for the hustle and bustle of urban life.  She needs a book to discourage such hankerings, she needs a book that will make her count her blessings that she’s away from the indifferent streets of the city.

Recommendations No 3, 4 & 5: The Good Parents by Joan London and Just_a_girl, by Kirsten Krauth and The Neighbour by Julie Proudfoot.

It rains a lot in Bass Strait.  And it’s cold.  Robyn needs a book that will take her to balmy summer skies and warm her inside and out.

Recommendation No 6: Carpentaria by Alexis Wright.  (I don’t have a review of it because I read it before I started blogging. But there are heaps of reviews at Goodreads).

She’s going to miss her family.  Best to have a book that reminds her how annoying families can be:

Recommendation No 7:  Life in Seven Mistakes by Susan Johnson.

I don’t know anything about the indigenous history of Maatsuyker Island… Wikipedia is silent on the matter.  But given its position so close to Tasmania, it seems highly likely either that it was inhabited or that it was visited by Tasmanian Aborigines.  Mudrooroo’s novel is the only one I know of by a Tasmanian Aboriginal, so although his Aboriginality is contested, I think his book is well worth reading anyway:

Recommendation No 8: Doctor Wooreddy’s Prescription for Enduring the Ending of the World

But in case a copy of that is hard to find I’m also going to suggest a Tassie author who has fictionalised some real events in Tasmania’s indigenous history…

Recommendation No 9: The Roving Party by Rohan Wilson

If I knew I were to be marooned far from an art gallery, I think I’d be taking some big coffee table art books to look at while away.  Since Robyn’s asked for novels:

Recommendations 10 & 11: The Profilist by Adrian Mitchell and The Longing by Candice Bruce.

Will Robyn miss going to the gym?  Maybe she can adapt to her environment as Joe does for parkour?

Recommendation No 12: Leap by Myfanwy Jones

Hmm, this list is looking a bit serious.  Something witty to remind Robyn what a crazy world we live in?

Recommendations No 13 & 14: N by John A Scott and The Wonders by Paddy O’Reilly

Last not least, I’m going to suggest something good for a laugh.  I haven’t read it yet though it’s on my TBR, but on previous form and from the reviews at Goodreads I know that this farce will raise a chuckle:

Recommendation No 15: Our Tiny Useless Hearts by Toni Jordan

If I may cheat a little and recommend a couple of NF titles too:

A lovely bio of a woman who used her time in remote WA for botanical illustration:  Georgiana Molloy, the mind that shines by Bernice Barry,  and because I’d miss my dog terribly, Dogs In Art (expanded edition) by Steven Miller.

Publishing details for nearly all the books are on my review pages.  Just click the links.


  1. Lovely list Lisa. I would include Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks, Plainsong by Kent Haruf (my two favourite books of all time that I could read over and over again) and The Painted Veil by W Somerset Maugham for complete escapism and pleasurable prose (although the latter doesn’t fit into the category of contemporary….) How exciting for Robyn – she could write 2 more books for us to read 😊. I take my hat off to her though – I think it would be pretty hard to give up civilisation for 6 months.


    • Oh, yes, lovely choices, all of those.
      As for civilisation… I don’t think I could give it up for a weekend…


      • 😄


  2. This would be an ideal list for me as I’ve only read Ulysses and Carpentaria and as you say, they’d stand rereading. No Finnegan’s Wake? Understanding it might fill the whole 6 months.


  3. Yes, I’d take that… I’m still hoping to make a start on it this year…
    I’d also take Great Expectations because I could happily read and re-read that and I’d risk taking Bolano’s 1666 because it’s so loooong. (But what if I hated it??) I’d also definitely take Marcus Aurelius because he’s very soothing.
    But I wanted this to be an Aussie list, and contemporary.


  4. The thought that my book would be good for a desert island list is a huge compliment – thank you Lisa. And I especially like the idea of breaking the rules a bit to add it… I haven’t read any of the titles on your list so I need a desert island myself. A week coming up soon somewhere warm but the books have already been purchased for that. All fiction this time!


    • Oh, I think your book would be inspirational for a sojourn like Robyn’s is going to be:)


  5. Hi Lisa and fellow readers/writers. What a delight, Lisa, to read this considered list of titles, along with the additions by your blog readers. Love it! You’ve given me a worthy list to choose from–antidotes for all things remote, not to mention a lovely reprieve after the endless task of lawn mowing and brushcutting! Thank you. It was fun reading of ‘Robyn’ in the 3rd person. I had an image of a little Leunig cartoon. Appreciate you taking on this request in your usual stellar way, with fellow blog readers weighing in with additional valued suggestions. Onward to Maatsuyker! 🌞


  6. *chuckle* I hope you’ve noticed that there’s an expectation that you’ll write another book!


  7. My new novel in progress is certainly my major creative project inbetween mowing lawns, maintenance and looking at cloud heights. A new story set in 1930s Arctic (the eternal call of the wild!). Many thanks. ✍🏼


    • That sounds interesting – I shall keep a look out for it, although I’m sure Lisa will let us know when it has come out. Good luck with your trip Robyn.

      Liked by 2 people

  8. Reblogged this on writing the wild.


  9. Fascinating list, Lisa! Robyn asked the right person.


  10. Haha, love this list Lisa. Of course, mine would be different, but that doesn’t mean it would be better or more worthwhile so I won’t add any (except of course to say that a Jane Austen wouldn’t go astray! And short stories are also great when you’re busy).

    My brother an his partner spent time – I think it was just a month – as relief lighthousekeepers one Maatsuyker Island, in the late 1990s I think. A great experience, they said (but oh, it sounds cold!). Doing weather observations etc as Robyn will be doing.


    • Excuse my silly typos – “AND his partner … ON Maatsuyker”


  11. When I was on Maat, I brought along Thoreau’s Bk, Walden. The 19th century language is a challenge, but T. provides a perspective re modern philosophical questions still intriguing today.


    • Hello Marsha, thank you for sharing this. Walden is a book I have been meaning to read for ages, I have a lovely old hardback copy of it on my TBR.


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