Island Life In Muriel Spark’s “Robinson”

A plane crash leaves alive only three people, who are now stranded for several months on an island owned by a recluse named Robinson (not Crusoe). The island is called Robinson too. One of the survivors, January Marlow, is the narrator of this a novel by Muriel Spark, Robinson (1958), and she I gather to be a conventional Catholic.

Among the themes of the book is Catholic tyranny, which has existed in history. Robinson the man (not January) is a Catholic tyrant, like Henry the Eighth in his later years. Unorthodox, he dislikes the material manifestations of Grace such as the rosary. But Robinson’s tyranny can go only so far. The other men, and survivors, on the island are Jimmie, who becomes January’s friend, and Tom Wells, who does not. Wells is an “occultist” who gets fresh with January and, later, even tries to kill her. Belief can be morally irrelevant—or relevant. (Another theme.)

Robinson speaks the obvious: “Human nature does not vary much.” It plainly does not on the man’s island. Spark, at any rate, intends this to be another of her novels that concern transcendent hope and truth. The characters anticipate being rescued from the island by a pomegranate boat which will arrive in August. What’s more, by and by the island begins to sink. As some of Spark’s sentences echo biblical language, the island she is no longer on somehow reminds January that “immediately all things are possible.” As, according to Scripture, they are with God.

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