Wednesday, July 08, 2009

The Castaways by Elin Hilderbrand

The Castaways by Elin Hilderbrand
Copyright 2009
Hatchette - Fiction/Women's
357 pages

Last night, when I finished reading The Castaways and put away my tissues (because, to be honest, this book was a total sobfest for me, although the tweets I've seen indicate that I'm just a sap), I had this terrific opening line in my head, sat down to write, and my 17-year-old said, "Would you stop with the tap-tap-tapping? I need rest!" So much for perfect first lines; now that I've had a few hours of sleep, the idea bubble has popped and we'll just have to go straight on to synopsis.

The Castaways is about the lives of 4 couples: Tess and Greg, the Chief and Andrea, Addison and Phoebe, Jeffrey and Delilah -- a tight-knit circle of friends who have vacationed together many times and call themselves "The Castaways" because they all somehow "washed up" in Nantucket and made it their home.

When Tess and Greg go for a sail to celebrate their 12th anniversary, everyone knows it's a bad idea. Tess nearly drowned as a child and is terrified of water. Jeff is not a very good sailor. Nobody stops them from going, though. The past year has been a rough one for them.

Tess and Greg die in an accident on that trip to Martha's Vineyard and the rest of the Castaways are devastated. This is how the book opens, with the news breaking and knees giving out, people crumpling as they find out two of their best friends are dead, their young twins orphaned. Since I've felt that kind of grief -- the kind that makes every part of your body ache and sucks the life out of you -- I could relate just a little too well and I had to set the book aside, walk away and calm down. But, I figured the heavy grieving scenes wouldn't last too long, and I was right. After the grieving, each of the people in their little circle of friends begins to question what happened, what they could have done to stop Tess and Greg, and whether their deaths were really an accident or worse. Addison is certain that Greg murdered Tess, the Chief is baffled by toxicology reports, Andrea wonders if it's her fault because she didn't become a nun . . . each has some "what if?" that gnaws at his or her soul.

The book isn't written in a linear fashion and it goes from the point of view of one character to another. The Castaways isn't even divided into chapters. Instead, it's divided by viewpoint and moves with surprisingly even flow from character to character. First, the Chief finds out his friends have died and has to identify their bodies. Then, it switches to Addison's viewpoint as he ponders how much he loved Tess -- and you realize that he and Tess were having an affair. As the story segues from one viewpoint to another, the reader gradually gets to know each of the 8 people involved in this little group, where they came from, who they were, what they went through to have children (or why they had none), how they ended up in Nantucket, how they found each other and became friends or lovers. And, gradually, their secrets are revealed.

I had so much trouble distinguishing the characters, at first, that I ended up drawing a little chart to sort them out. Jeffrey was married to Delilah but he used to date Andrea, for example, so I had Jeffrey and Delilah together as a couple, an arrow from Jeffrey to Andrea that said "former love" and an arrow from Delilah to Greg that reminded me that they worked together and Delilah had a bit of an unrequited crush on Greg. In the end, there were quite a few arrows and little notes beneath names because The Castaways is very character driven and the relationships were complex.

I'm not even sure what exactly it is that worked about this book. I tend to like a more plot-driven novel, but I was totally blown away by the depth of dimension in Elin Hilderbrand's characters. The Castaways would probably be an excellent book for discussion, simply because the reader knows the characters so well by the end of the book that to talk about the story and its characters could easily feel like gossip.

4/5 - An excellent, character-driven novel with a hint of mystery, amazing depth of characterization and a genuinely satisfying ending.

I took off a point for the annoyance of all that drinking and puking -- something that also stood out when I read my first Hilderbrand, last week. Her characters tend to drink heavily. They get drunk and throw up. They get pregnant and throw up. Their kids get sick and throw up. Bad news usually makes at least one of them puke. I could do without all that heaving and there were times I thought the bad language (usually a thought, not necessarily uttered aloud) was just a bit much. Their sex lives are complex but I didn't find the sex scenes overly graphic. I just wouldn't hand this one to a youngster.
This photo reminded me of the characters -- two seagulls having an argument while a third tries to intervene.

The Castaways is definitely great for vacation reading. You really get sucked into the characters' lives and want to know how things will end up.

I read this book as part of the blog tour for Hatchette Books, but I'm a little late posting, this morning, so I'm going to skip the links to other blogs touring, today, at least for the moment.

Just walked in:

The Myrtles Plantation: The True Story of America's Most Haunted House by Frances Kermeen -- oooooh, ghosties! My friend Tammy sent this one. Thanks, Tammy!!!

Next up:

A sneak peek into Ransome's Honor by Kaye Dacus. I just started reading this one and I'm not a fast reader, so I'm not sure I'll have the review up by tomorrow, but I'll try my darndest.

Happy Reading!


  1. Well, I'm not sure about this one but I can't wait for your review of The Myrtles Plantation. The Ghost Hunters did an episode from their and it's quite the place.


  2. CJ,

    That's apparently what got my little book group started on Myrtles Plantation -- some of them saw the episode and everyone decided to buddy read the book. I'll read it during the daylight hours. ;)

  3. Great review! I snagged a copy of this book at BEA, and now I really can't wait to read it. I hope I can keep all the characters straight without having to pull out my notebook!

    Diary of an Eccentric

  4. Anna,

    I kind of like my little character chart! LOL It was fun drawing little arrows and making notes. Must be the nerd in me. Hope you like it!

  5. I drew a little character chart, too! I thought this book was great, but it didn't make me cry and I'm a total crybaby.

  6. Kathy,

    Apparently, I'm an even bigger crybaby. The beginning was the hardest, but I did get a little teary when Phoebe made her announcement. I cry during sweet, touching moments, too. You can imagine what Hallmark commercials do to people like me. LOL

  7. I enjoyed this one as well. I guess there was a lot of puking now that you mention it, but I wasn't that conscious of it while I was reading. I didn't cry but my eyes did start to sting a bit when Phoebe made her announcement and again when they went on the nature walk.

  8. Nicole,

    I noticed the puking in both Hilderbrand novels. Claire in A Summer Affair threw up if she was hot or something upset her, too.

    The scenes you mention are the ones I think are probably the most heart-tugging. The beginning of the novel only got me because I can relate a little too well. :)

  9. Actually I am also wary of books with lesser importance to plot. But you make me get this one!

    That pic is just so beautiful! Amazing!

  10. Veens,

    I hope you like it, especially if it's my fault that you might end up with the book!

    Thank you! I took that photo on the Mississippi Gulf Coast -- only a 3-hour drive and we hardly ever go there. I should do something about that.

  11. I really enjoyed this book but, at the beginning, I'll admit to being a little confused as well. Maybe if a little more time had been spent on each character before moving on it might have helped. Either way, I look forward to reading more of her novels.

  12. Dar,

    I think it's a given with a large cast of characters that there should be some in-depth description, at first. While I thought her characterization was excellent, I realized later that it was mostly internal. I had trouble visualizing several of the characters. I know Addison was balding and Phoebe was tiny and blonde, but I couldn't figure out what Andrea looked like. So, yeah, a bit more description at the beginning would have helped. I liked both novels I read, but I think I'll give it a break before I read another.

  13. Too funny about all the puking! This sounds intriguing, though, and I'll give it a go one of these days. I still want to read one of her earlier titles. I think it's Blue Bistro. Something about cooking.


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