I always dream of beautiful, sunny islands whenever I feel down. If dreaming is not enough, I find my cure in books. So I created books set on islands list because I know we all need to escape from time to time. I included almost all the genres in this list so that anyone looking for an island escape can find a book for themselves.
There is something magical about islands, isn’t there? One feels a lot more isolated, yet the sun, the sea and even the air feel more beautiful. And if the island is small enough and there are no cars, and it is far away from the mainland, you can really feel the difference it makes. Not all the islands on the books set on islands list are like the one I describe, and that is its beauty.
I tried to include books set on islands from as many different countries as I could. I love translated fiction and discovering various cultures via reading, so you’ll find books set on islands in foreign lands. I didn’t include Lord of the Flies, Treasure Island, Robinson Crusoe and many other books to books set on islands list because one automatically thinks of them while thinking of books set on islands.
20 Fascinating Books Set on Islands
My Family and Other Animals – Gerald Durrell
My Family and Other Animals is the bewitching account of a rare and magical childhood on the island of Corfu by treasured British conservationist Gerald Durrell. One of the most popular books set on islands.
Escaping the ills of the British climate, the Durrell family – acne-ridden Margo, gun-toting Leslie, bookworm Lawrence and budding naturalist Gerry, along with their long-suffering mother and Roger the dog – take off for the island of Corfu.
But the Durrells find that, reluctantly, they must share their various villas with a menagerie of local fauna – among them scorpions, geckos, toads, bats and butterflies.
Recounted with immense humour and charm My Family and Other Animals is a wonderful account of a rare, magical childhood.
‘Durrell has an uncanny knack of discovering human as well as animal eccentricities’ Sunday Telegraph
‘A bewitching book’ Sunday Times
After reading this uplifting choice on the books set on islands list, you can watch the tv show too.
Kensuke’s Kingdom – Michael Morpurgo
When Michael is washed up on an island in the Pacific after falling from his parent’s yacht, the Peggy Sue, he struggles to survive on his own. But he soon realises there is someone close by, someone who is watching over him and helping him to stay alive.
Following a close-run battle between life and death after being stung by a poisonous jelly fish, the mysterious someone–Kensuke–allows Michael into his world and they become friends, teaching and learning from each other, until the day of separation becomes inevitable.
Morpurgo here spins a yarn which gently captures the adventurous elements one would expect from a desert-island tale, but the real strength lies in the poignant and subtle observations of friendship, trust and, ultimately, humanity.
Beautifully illustrated by Michael Foreman, Kensuke’s Kingdom is a stylish, deceptively simple and magical book that will effortlessly capture the heart and imagination of anyone who reads it, ensuring that Morpurgo continues to stand tall amid the ranks of classic children’s authors. (Ages 9 and over) —Susan Harrison
This one is an excellent choice in books set on islands list if you want to escape reality with a children’s book.
Skios – Michael Frayn
‘Good God, thought Oliver, as he saw the smile. She thinks I’m him! And all at once he knew it was so. He was Dr Norman Wilfred.’
On the sunlit Greek island of Skios, the Fred Toppler Foundation’s annual lecture is to be given by Dr Norman Wilfred, the world-famous authority on the scientific organisation of science. He turns out to be surprisingly young and charming – not at all the intimidating figure they had been expecting. The Foundation’s guests are soon eating out of his hand. So, even sooner, is Nikki, the attractive and efficient organiser.
Meanwhile, in a remote villa at the other end of the island, Nikki’s old school-friend Georgie waits for the notorious chancer she has rashly agreed to go on holiday with, and who has only too characteristically failed to turn up.
Trapped in the villa with her, by an unfortunate chain of misadventure, is a balding old gent called Dr Norman Wilfred, who has lost his whereabouts, his luggage, his temper and increasingly all normal sense of reality – everything he possesses apart from the flyblown text of a well-travelled lecture on the scientific organisation of science…
And as the time draws ever nearer for one or other Dr Wilfred – or possibly both – to give the eagerly awaited lecture, so Skios – Greece – Europe – career off their appointed track.
Longlisted for the Man Booker Prize, Skios is a story of mislaid identity, misdirected passion and miscalculated consequences. Michael Frayn is also the celebrated author of fifteen plays including Noises Off, Copenhagen and Afterlife. His other bestselling novels include Headlong, which was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and Spies, which won the Whitbread Best Novel Award. If you are looking for a prize-winning author choose this one among books set on islands list.
We Were Liars – E. Lockhart
A beautiful and distinguished family.
A private island.
A brilliant, damaged girl; a passionate, political boy.
A group of four friends—the Liars—whose friendship turns destructive.
A revolution. An accident. A secret.
Lies upon lies.
We Were Liars is a modern, sophisticated suspense novel from New York Times bestselling author, National Book Award finalist, and Printz Award honoree E. Lockhart.
And if anyone asks you how it ends, just LIE.
Books set on islands list wouldn’t be a proper list without this contemporary YA gem.
Mister Pip – Lloyd Jones
‘Lloyd Jones brings to life the transformative power of fiction . . . This is a beautiful book’ Sunday Times
‘You cannot pretend to read a book. Your eyes will give you away. So will your breathing. A person entranced by a book simply forgets to breathe. The house can catch alight and a reader deep in a book will not look up until the wallpaper is in flames.’
Bougainville, 1991. A small village on a lush tropical island in the South Pacific. Eighty-six days have passed since Matilda’s last day of school as, quietly, war is encroaching from the other end of the island.
When the villagers’ safe, predictable lives come to a halt, Bougainville’s children are surprised to find the island’s only white man, a recluse, re-opening the school. Pop Eye, aka Mr Watts, explains he will introduce the children to Mr Dickens. Matilda and the others think a foreigner is coming to the island and prepare a list of much needed items. They are shocked to discover their acquaintance with Mr Dickens will be through Mr Watts’ inspiring reading of Great Expectations.
But on an island at war, the power of fiction has dangerous consequences. Imagination and beliefs are challenged by guns. Mister Pip is an unforgettable tale of survival by story; a dazzling piece of writing that lives long in the mind after the last page is finished.
The Magus – John Fowles
A man trapped in a millionare’s deadly game of political and sexual betrayal.
Filled with shocks and chilling surprises, The Magus is a masterwork of contemporary literature. In it, a young Englishman, Nicholas Urfe, accepts a teaching position on a Greek island where his friendship with the owner of the islands most magnificent estate leads him into a nightmare. As reality and fantasy are deliberately confused by staged deaths, erotic encounters, and terrifying violence, Urfe becomes a desperate man fighting for his sanity and his life. A work rich with symbols, conundrums and labrinthine twists of event, The Magus is as thought-provoking as it is entertaining, a work that ranks with the best novels of modern times.
The Magus is one of the most interesting books set on islands, a must-read.
The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry – Gabrielle Zevin
One of the feel-goods on books set on islands list, As surprising as it is moving, The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry is an unforgettable tale of transformation and second chances, an irresistible affirmation of why we read, and why we love.
We are not quite novels.
We are not quite short stories.
In the end, we are collected works.
A. J. Fikry’s life is not at all what he expected it to be. His wife has died; his bookstore is experiencing the worst sales in its history; and now his prized possession, a rare collection of Poe poems, has been stolen.
Slowly but surely, he is isolating himself from all the people of Alice Island—from Chief Lambiase, the well-intentioned police officer who’s always felt kindly toward him; from Ismay, his sister-in-law, who is hell-bent on saving A.J. from his dreary self; from Amelia, the lovely and idealistic (if eccentric) Knightley Press sales rep who persists in taking the ferry to Alice Island, refusing to be deterred by A.J.’s bad attitude. Even the books in his store have stopped holding pleasure for him. These days, he can only see them as a sign of a world that is changing too rapidly.
And then a mysterious package appears at the bookstore. It’s a small package, though large in weight—an unexpected arrival that gives A.J. the opportunity to make his life over, the ability to see everything anew. It doesn’t take long for the locals to notice the change overcoming A.J., for the determined sales rep Amelia to see her curmudgeonly client in a new light, for the wisdom of all those books to become again the lifeblood of A.J.’s world.
Or for everything to twist again into a version of his life that he didn’t see coming. This is one of the feel-good choices on the books set on islands list.
Saint X – Alexis Schaitkin
Claire is only seven years old when her college-age sister, Alison, disappears on the last night of their family vacation at a resort on the Caribbean island of Saint X. Several days later, Alison’s body is found in a remote spot on a nearby cay, and two local men – employees at the resort – are arrested. But the evidence is slim, the timeline against it, and the men are soon released. The story turns into national tabloid news, a lurid mystery that will go unsolved. For Claire and her parents, there is only the return home to broken lives.
Years later, Claire is living and working in New York City when a brief but fateful encounter brings her together with Clive Richardson, one of the men originally suspected of murdering her sister. It is a moment that sets Claire on an obsessive pursuit of the truth – not only to find out what happened the night of Alison’s death but also to answer the elusive question: Who exactly was her sister? At seven, Claire had been barely old enough to know her: a beautiful, changeable, provocative girl of eighteen at a turbulent moment of identity formation.
As Claire doggedly shadows Clive, hoping to gain his trust, waiting for the slip that will reveal the truth, an unlikely attachment develops between them, two people whose lives were forever marked by the same tragedy. Not an easy choice on books set on islands list but if you love mysteries, this one is for you.
The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet – David Mitchell
The year is 1799, the place Dejima in Nagasaki Harbor, the “high-walled, fan-shaped artificial island” that is the Japanese Empire’s single port and sole window onto the world, designed to keep the West at bay; the farthest outpost of the war-ravaged Dutch East Indies Company; and a de facto prison for the dozen foreigners permitted to live and work there. To this place of devious merchants, deceitful interpreters, costly courtesans, earthquakes, and typhoons comes Jacob de Zoet, a devout and resourceful young clerk who has five years in the East to earn a fortune of sufficient size to win the hand of his wealthy fiancée back in Holland.
But Jacob’s original intentions are eclipsed after a chance encounter with Orito Aibagawa, the disfigured daughter of a samurai doctor and midwife to the city’s powerful magistrate. The borders between propriety, profit, and pleasure blur until Jacob finds his vision clouded, one rash promise made and then fatefully broken. The consequences will extend beyond Jacob’s worst imaginings. As one cynical colleague asks, “Who ain’t a gambler in the glorious Orient, with his very life?”
A magnificent mix of luminous writing, prodigious research, and heedless imagination, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet is the most impressive achievement of its eminent author. One of the most popular titles on books set on islands list.
Mussolini’s Island – Sarah Day
Sarah Day’s MUSSOLINI’S ISLAND is a novel of sexuality and desire, of hidden passions and the secrets we keep locked within us. Based on the true story of the rounding up of a group of Sicilian gay men in 1939, this book is sure to appeal to readers of the Elena Ferrante novels, Anthony Doerr’s ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE or Virginia Baily’s EARLY ONE MORNING. One of the most promising books set on islands list.
‘A fascinating debut…the setting and characters are strong and the story is written with verve. Day is a talent to watch’ – The Times
Francesco has a memory of his father from early childhood, a night when life for his family changed. From that night, he has vowed to protect his mother and to follow the words of his father: Non mollare. Never give up.
As Francesco is herded into a camp on the island of San Domino, he realises that someone must have handed a list of names to the fascist police. Locked in spartan dormitories, resentment and bitterness between the men grows each day.
Elena, an illiterate island girl, is drawn to the handsome Francesco. Sometimes, she is given a message to pass on. She’s not sure who they are from; she knows simply that Francesco is hiding something. When Elena discovers the truth about the group of prisoners, the fine line between love and hate pulls her towards an act that can only have terrible consequences for all. One of the most promising books set on islands list.
Snapping Point – Aslı Biçen
‘But for that slender connection with the mainland, Andalıç would have been a regular island,’ says Aslı Biçen in the opening chapter of this deliciously multi-layered novel. And it would have been an ordinary story about love and loss, if it weren’t for the earthquake that unexpectedly sets the landmass afloat on the Aegean, kindling a series of increasingly oppressive measures by the authorities; ostensibly to keep public order. As Andalıç drifts between Greece and Turkey, things get from bad to worse, until eventually our heroes, Cemal and Jülide, join the growing resistance, and even nature lends a helping hand, offering a secret underground system that plays its part in ousting the tyranny.
What starts as the realistic tale of a charming provincial town develops into a richly detailed political novel in a fantastic setting. Biçen’s dreamy language weaves a flowing style that transports the reader into every nook and cranny of Andalıç and the crystal-clear waters of the Aegean; her metaphors are imaginative, her observations insightful, and her descriptions melodious. The only Turkish author on books set on islands list.
The Island – Victoria Hislop
The Island, the acclaimed million-copy No.1 bestseller and winner of Richard & Judy’s Summer Read 2006 from Victoria Hislop, is a dramatic tale of four generations, rent by war, illicit love, violence and leprosy, from the thirties, through the war, to the present day. If you’re looking for a love story, choose this on books set on islands list.
***A beautiful 10th anniversary paperback edition that includes a new essay by Victoria Hislop on the impact of this million-copy bestseller.***
On the brink of a life-changing decision, Alexis Fielding longs to find out about her mother’s past. But Sofia has never spoken of it. All she admits to is growing up in a small Cretan village before moving to London. When Alexis decides to visit Crete, however, Sofia gives her daughter a letter to take to an old friend, and promises that through her she will learn more.
Arriving in Plaka, Alexis is astonished to see that it lies a stone’s throw from the tiny, deserted island of Spinalonga – Greece’s former leper colony. Then she finds Fotini, and at last hears the story that Sofia has buried all her life: the tale of her great-grandmother Eleni and her daughters and a family rent by tragedy, war and passion. She discovers how intimately she is connected with the island, and how secrecy holds them all in its powerful grip… If you want to be transported to Greece choose this one among books set on islands.
Independent People – Halldór Laxness
This magnificent novel—which secured for its author the 1955 Nobel Prize in Literature—is at last available to contemporary American readers. Although it is set in the early twentieth century, it recalls both Iceland’s medieval epics and such classics as Sigrid Undset’s Kristin Lavransdatter. And if Bjartur of Summerhouses, the book’s protagonist, is an ordinary sheep farmer, his flinty determination to achieve independence is genuinely heroic and, at the same time, terrifying and bleakly comic.
Having spent eighteen years in humiliating servitude, Bjartur wants nothing more than to raise his flocks unbeholden to any man. But Bjartur’s spirited daughter wants to live unbeholden to him. What ensues is a battle of wills that is by turns harsh and touching, elemental in its emotional intensity and intimate in its homely detail. Vast in scope and deeply rewarding, Independent People is simply a masterpiece. One of the most important books set on islands.
Our Man In Havana – Graham Greene
A hapless salesman in Cuba is recruited into Cold War spy games in Greene’s classic “comical, satirical, atmospherical” novel. (The Daily Telegraph). For the classic detective novel lovers, a great choice on books set on islands list.
James Wormold, a cash-strapped vacuum cleaner salesman in Havana, finds the answer to his prayers when British Intelligence offers him a lucrative job as an undercover agent. To keep the checks coming, Wormold must at least pretend to know what he’s doing. Soon, he’s apparently deciphering incomprehensible codes, passing along sketches of secret weapons that look suspiciously like vacuum parts, and claiming to recruit fellow operatives from his country club, all to create the perfect picture of intrigue.
But when MI6 dispatches a secretary to oversee his endeavors, Wormold fears his carelessly fabricated world will come undone. Instead, it all comes true. Somehow, he’s become the target of an assassin, and it’s going to take more than a fib to get out of Cuba alive. Her Majesty’s man in Havana may have to resort to spying.
Named one of the 20 Best Spy Novels of All Time by the Telegraph and adapted into the classic 1959 comedy starring Alec Guinness, Our Man in Havana is “high-comic mayhem . . . weirdly undated . . . [and] bizarrely prescient” (Christopher Buckley, New York Times–bestselling author). One of the spy classics on the books set on islands list.
The Murderess – Alexandros Papadiamantis
The Murderess is a bone-chilling tale of crime and punishment with the dark beauty of a backwoods ballad. Set on the dirt-poor Aegean island of Skiathos, it is the story of Hadoula, an old woman living on the margins of society and at the outer limits of respectability. Hadoula knows about herbs and their hidden properties, and women come to her when they need help.
She knows women’s secrets and she knows the misery of their lives, and as the book begins, she is trying to stop her new-born granddaughter from crying so that her daughter can at last get a little sleep. She rocks the baby and rocks her and then the terrible truth hits her: there’s nothing worse than being born a woman, and there’s something that she, Hadoula, can do about that. If you want to read about a powerful character choose this one on books set on islands list.
Peter Levi’s matchless translation of Alexandros Papadiamantis’s astonishing novella captures the excitement and haunting poetry of the original Greek. A thriller/mystery on books set on islands list.
The House at the Edge of Night – Catherine Banner
A sweeping saga about four generations of a family who live and love on an enchanting Mediterranean island off the coast of Italy—combining the romance of Beautiful Ruins with the magical tapestry works of Isabel Allende. An easy choice among books set on islands list.
Castellamare is an island far enough away from the mainland to be forgotten, but not far enough to escape from the world’s troubles. At the center of the island’s life is a café draped with bougainvillea called the House at the Edge of Night, where over generations the community gathers to gossip and talk. Amedeo Esposito, a foundling from Florence, finds his destiny on the island with his beautiful wife, Pina, whose fierce intelligence, grace, and unwavering love guide her every move. An indiscretion tests their marriage, and their children—three sons and an inquisitive daughter—grow up and struggle with both humanity’s cruelty and its capacity for love and mercy.
Spanning nearly a century, through secrets and mysteries, trials and sacrifice, this beautiful and haunting novel follows the lives of the Esposito family and the other islanders who live and love on Castellamare: a cruel count and his bewitching wife, a priest who loves scandal, a prisoner of war turned poet, an outcast girl who becomes a pillar of strength, a wounded English soldier who emerges from the sea. The people of Castellamare are transformed by two world wars and a great recession, by the threat of fascism and their deep bonds of passion and friendship, and by bitter rivalries and the power of forgiveness, in this richly written and powerful novel.
Catherine Banner has written an enthralling, character-rich novel, epic in scope but intimate in feeling. At times, the island itself seems alive, a mythical place where the earth heaves with stories—and this magical novel takes you there. A great choice on books set on islands list.
Arturo’s Island – Elsa Morante
On a remote island in the Bay of Naples, a young boy roams the shore with only his dog for company. Arturo’s mother died in childbirth and his wayward father Wilhelm rarely returns to the island. Left in isolation, he dreams up a world of romantic exploits in which his father sails the seas like the heroes in his favourite stories.
When Wilhelm suddenly reappears with his new young wife Nunziata, Arturo’s imagined world bursts apart, and he falls in passionate, tormented love. As Wilhelm’s behaviour grows increasingly erratic, Arturo must begin to face the reality of his father’s life, and of his own feelings.
A deeply affecting tale of childhood disenchantment, Arturo’s Island is a work of stunning emotional force by one of modern Italian literature’s foremost writers. A great choice from Italy on books set on islands lit.
A House for Mr. Biswas – V. S. Naipaul
With an introduction by author Teju Cole, A House for Mr Biswas is Nobel Prize in Literature winner V. S. Naipaul’s unforgettable masterpiece. Heart-rending and darkly comic, it has been hailed as one of the twentieth century’s finest novels, a classic that evokes a man’s quest for autonomy against the backdrop of post-colonial Trinidad. Another Nobel winner on the books set on islands list.
He was struck again and again by the wonder of being in his own house, the audacity of it: to walk in through his own front gate, to bar entry to whoever he wished, to close his doors and windows every night.
Mr. Biswas has been told since the day of his birth that misfortune will follow him – and so it has. Meaning only to avoid punishment, he causes the death of his father and the dissolution of his family. Wanting simply to flirt with a beautiful woman, he ends up marrying her, and reluctantly relying on her domineering family for support. But in spite of endless setbacks, Mr. Biswas is determined to achieve independence, and so he begins his gruelling struggle to buy a home of his own. A recommended one on the books set on islands list.
The Memory Police – Yoko Ogawa
If you want to travel to Japan, chose this one among books set on islands.
On an unnamed island off an unnamed coast, objects are disappearing: first hats, then ribbons, birds, roses—until things become much more serious. Most of the island’s inhabitants are oblivious to these changes, while those few imbued with the power to recall the lost objects live in fear of the draconian Memory Police, who are committed to ensuring that what has disappeared remains forgotten.
When a young woman who is struggling to maintain her career as a novelist discovers that her editor is in danger from the Memory Police, she concocts a plan to hide him beneath her floorboards. As fear and loss close in around them, they cling to her writing as the last way of preserving the past.
A surreal, provocative fable about the power of memory and the trauma of loss, The Memory Police is a stunning new work from one of the most exciting contemporary authors writing in any language. An interesting choice among books set on islands.
This Rough Magic – Mary Stewart
When Lucy Waring’s sister Phyllida suggests that she join her for a quiet holiday on the island of Corfu, young English Lucy is overjoyed. Her work as an actress has temporarily come to a halt. She believes there is no finer place to be “at liberty” than the sun-drenched isle of Corfu, the alleged locale for Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Even the suspicious actions of the handsome, arrogant son of a famous actor cannot dampen her enthusiasm for this wonderland in the Ionian Sea.
But the peaceful idyll does not last long. A series of incidents, seemingly unconnected – but all surrounded in mystery – throws Lucy’s life into a dangerous spin, as fear, danger and death – as well as romance – supplant the former tranquility. Then a human corpse is carried ashore on the incoming tide… And without warning, she found she had stumbled into a nightmare of strange violence, stalked by shadows of terror and sudden death. An oldie but goldie on books set on islands list.
Check out my other lists about books!
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Have you read any of the books set on islands on this list? Which one would you consider reading? Do you want to add another book to books set on islands list? Share your thoughts in the comments below.