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Mustique Island

Review

Mustique Island

Following the release of her highly acclaimed MARILLA OF GREEN GABLES, Sarah McCoy returns with MUSTIQUE ISLAND, a sun-drenched adventure on an exclusive private island in the Caribbean with a sordid, tragic history.

The year is 1972, and 45-year-old Willy May is finally ready to settle down. A former beauty queen from Texas, she first set course for her future when she danced with Royal Air Force pilot Harry Michael at only 16. The blue-blooded only son of the daughter of an earl and a brewery owner, Harry was training at a nearby flight school, and his appearance in her provincial life --- along with his limited understanding of his own privilege --- was Willy May’s ticket out of the Texas countryside with its meager opportunities.

Willy May quickly became pregnant, her two beloved daughters securing her place in the family tree --- but not the love or respect of her in-laws or England’s upper echelon. For a long time, that was fine, as long as Willy May and Harry had something that looked like love, and their shared and very real adoration of their children. But that was before Harry got sloppy and exposed his decades-long affair to the public, culminating in an explosive divorce and Harry’s own death by stress-induced heart attack (or genetics, but that’s not as popular an explanation in the gossip rags).

"If you can’t visit the Caribbean islands yourself this summer...this is the perfect escape --- and an unforgettable reminder that wherever you go, you bring your past with you."

Having gained a substantial windfall in the divorce, Willy May spent three years sailing around the globe, only to find that when she reached her final destination, there she was again. A friend, Davey, has encouraged her to visit Mustique Island, where celebrity architect Arne Hasselqvist has been constructing ocean-view mansions for the owners of the island, Colin and Anne Tennant, and their exclusive stockholders and guests, including Princess Margaret.

Colin is an eccentric, quirky British playboy who boasts that Mustique is the real thing, “paradise as it was intended without the riffraff of the polluted world.” He can wax intellectual about the power of beauty, but Willy May, with her Texan roots and hard-living know-how, quickly sees through his claims for what they are: a finely crafted, glossy and entirely manufactured facade of a tourist trap that survives by exploiting Caribbean locals.

Given the island’s history as an extension of the global cotton trade, it’s difficult for Willy May to separate all that Colin has accomplished with the murky history --- and behind-the-scenes truths --- of Mustique. Still, she has come with her own goal in mind: to stop, root and see what grows from the fractured pieces that her family, divorce and her own insecurities have left behind. And, of course, if she can craft a nest for her daughters to come home to, even better.

But Willy May, as compelling and unforgettable as she is, is not McCoy’s only narrator. As 1972 continues and Vietnam dominates the news, the Olympics results in a massacre. David Bowie, Pink Floyd and Carole King compose the soundtrack to a tumultuous year. Willy May’s daughters, Hilly and Joanne, come to join her in Mustique, each seeking a home, a place to nurse their wounds and a conclusion to a lifetime of secrecy, hurt feelings and miscommunications. While MUSTIQUE ISLAND quickly morphs into a poignant story of mothers and daughters, McCoy also carefully employs her beautifully written characters to set right a legacy of wrongs as the women explore the very real issues of class, race and colonizing tourism plaguing the tiny, vibrant island.

Although the island’s luxurious facade promises escape, it offers anything but while still promising the hope of redemption, if only each woman will be brave enough to face herself, mend broken hearts and put her faith in her family. With a cast populated by the likes of Mick Jagger, Princess Margaret and, of course, the three incredible Michaels women, MUSTIQUE ISLAND is equal parts family epic, gossip-fueled fun and searingly timely historical fiction with urgent, immediate present-day connections. And I haven’t even gotten to the setting yet.

If you have read McCoy’s previous works, particularly MARILLA OF GREEN GABLES, you already know that she builds her worlds, even the existing ones, with an air of magic, immersing readers in the sights, sounds and smells of her setting so seamlessly that you are often surprised to look up and see your same old living room. MUSTIQUE ISLAND is no different. From the moment Willy May first kisses the edge of the island with her boat (named, of course, for a powerful feminist icon), you can feel the humidity frizzing your hair, smell the saltwater beaches, and hear the birds and insects harmonizing from the lush greenery.

That McCoy has built such a vivid and luscious world makes the immersion into her narrative that much easier. While in the hands of a lesser author, her descriptive paragraphs could distract from the plot, she balances everything --- and I do mean everything, from character perspective to thematic weight --- perfectly, letting her gorgeously written characters run free and heal from their mistakes, temptations and tragedies.

With a compelling, poignant blend of fact, fiction and history, MUSTIQUE ISLAND is an excellent book club, buddy or summer read. If you can’t visit the Caribbean islands yourself this summer (and McCoy provides some very real reasons why you should do so mindfully if you can), this is the perfect escape --- and an unforgettable reminder that wherever you go, you bring your past with you.

Reviewed by Rebecca Munro on May 13, 2022

Mustique Island
by Sarah McCoy

  • Publication Date: May 10, 2022
  • Genres: Fiction, Women's Fiction
  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow
  • ISBN-10: 0062984373
  • ISBN-13: 9780062984371