Thursday, 4 August 2011

A clumsy chronicle

The Last Colony: An Experience of Reunion Island is one of several e-books written by Michael Steane, and recounts his time spent on Reunion Island (a French overseas department in the Indian Ocean) during the early nineties. It seems to have been written in 1997 in Australia where the author went to live after leaving Reunion, but appears to have only been published (as an e-book) in 2010.

cover of The Last Colony: An Experience of Reunion Island

Chapters are short, manageable, and are broadly thematic, and the narrative is not too linear. The author is at his best when describing Reunion's beautiful landscape, scenery and outdoor attractions. However that is where most of the positive points of the book end.

It is littered with punctuation errors and spelling mistakes in English and in French (eg 'messayge') that a simple re-reading and/or use of a spell checker would have eliminated, and I found this distracting.

There are also numerous factual mistakes (calling the French electricity company EDS for example, instead of EDF; confusing the given names of Verges father and son; saying that Tromelin is one of the Mascarene islands instead of Rodrigues); the wrong use of French terms (eg 'octroi mer' instead of 'octroi de mer'; saying that a 'casier judiciaire' (criminal record) is needed when what is actually needed is an 'extrait de casier judiciaire' (proof of no criminal record) !); and debatable generalisations (eg 'St Denis is a largely Muslim town' or 'it is fairly commonplace for [university] lecturers to have sexual relations with their students'). There are also some repetitions (e.g. the visit of his mother to the island).

All in all this is one of the first books I've read where I felt I should be awarded points for effort (for reading the book) rather than the author !

The author is well-meaning and his appreciation of the island is apparent, (although not immediately), but better fact-checking (a lack of which is inexcusable for any self-respecting self-publisher in the internet age), along with fewer generalisations and less repetition of clichéd opinions would have helped his case (and the island's reputation amongst those non-speakers of French who don't know Reunion).

P.S. I have not listed all the mistakes and errors in the book as there are far too many for a simple review, I've simply highlighted a few to illustrate my points.

Further reading:

A review from the blog "Around the world in 80 books!!!".

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