Allison Amend’s Enchanted Islands is as bewitching as the title suggests; [a] lush and captivating tale of friendship, marriage, and espionage ... Amend’s writing is spellbinding, and her characters are complicated and richly conceived ... Amend’s characterization of the protagonist feels as rich and vibrant as her descriptions of the island. It is worth mentioning here, too, that female protagonists over 35 are rare in contemporary fiction, especially women over 35 whose lives have purpose beyond stereotypes or saccharine conclusions.
Enchanted Islands is a many faceted jewel. It's a spy thriller, a survivalist memoir and a portrait of a marriage. It's a story of female friendships — Frances' on-again, off-again relationships with Rosalie and Elke — as well as a fascinating travelogue most likely made more realistic by Amend's travels to the islands. The novel is also a window into what it was like to be Jewish in America in the early 20th century...A great summer read, a fabulous story for all seasons, Enchanted Islands will carry you away.
This isn’t yet another novel about a woman 'finding herself' in the wild; it’s an endearing chronicle of female friendship and evolution in the early 20th century...Amend displays her talent for making solitary humans the most alluring animals among blue-footed boobies, great frigatebirds and the rest of Darwin’s magnificent crew. On an island bursting with nature’s most remarkable creatures, humanity’s depthless capacity for loneliness crows most keenly.
The novel’s evocative language and robust pacing turn this improbable story into a fascinating rumination on identity, friendship and love ... Amend has a strong sense of setting. She vividly evokes Duluth’s bleakness, Chicago’s sparkling bustle, rural Nebraska’s quietude and San Francisco’s sophistication. Most enticing of all is the otherworldliness of the Galapagos. Each character is drawn with nuance and Franny is eminently appealing — smart, witty, modest, inventive, brave and lonely ... What about those two years? Amend’s narrative disappoints here. Surely the account of the best years of their daring, self-sufficient life in such an exotic location deserves more than eight pages. Perhaps the best part of the book is Amend’s convincing portrait of an unconventional, affectionate, adventurous marriage.
As a spy thriller, the book fails spectacularly. But as a portrait of a woman’s lifelong search for intimacy, it glimmers gently, with a humility to match its subject...But the novel at times moves at the pace of a Galapagos tortoise, burdened by too much biography and too little action. The Conways don’t alight on their island home until over halfway through the book; Frances’ espionage is confined to one harrowing encounter. This seems to be more a failure of marketing than talent. Amend excels on other, quieter fronts: in her sensitivity to both the virtue and emptiness of solitude, in her portrayal of romance without attraction, in her attention to how deprivation more often stunts than ennobles.
Amend’s novel manages to encompass a woman’s life, the story of a marriage, a tense standoff between Allied and Axis operatives, and a sensitive examination of women’s friendship. Not all of these succeed equally, but Enchanted Islands is still a thought-provoking read ... Her unusual story should get top billing in your seasonal TBR pile.