Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, book of a lifetime: A captivating story full of suspense


Val McDermid
Thursday 11 September 2014 14:04 BST
Robert Louis Stevenson was a master of so many different styles of writing
Robert Louis Stevenson was a master of so many different styles of writing

When we're small, we love to have the same book read to us over and over again. It's not a habit that persists for long, and few books lodge themselves so firmly in our consciousness that we return to them regularly.

But every now and again in a reading life, a book snags our attention and finds a place in our heart that makes us want to revisit it. For me, that book is Treasure Island.

My great-uncle used to buy all sorts of comics for his grandson in a bid to get him to read and they were generally passed on to me. One day, I picked up one of the Classic Comic series. I have a vivid recollection of a cover that featured a leering, one-legged man with a tricorn hat, a scarlet coat and a raucous-looking parrot on his shoulder. The man was Long John Silver and the story was Treasure Island.

I was captivated. I loved that the story was told from the perspective of a child looking at the world wide-eyed and filled with a mixture of boldness and caution. I loved the sense of unpredictable excitement, the exotic settings of a tall ship and a remote island, the flamboyant illustrations of the dramatic comic-book narrative.

I knew that these comics were based on proper books, and the title page gave the author's name: Robert Louis Stevenson. So off I went to the library to find the original. I was trepidatious; I'd tried to read so-called classics before and found them yawningly dull or dauntingly difficult. But Treasure Island wasn't like that.

Jim Hawkins' story gripped me from the first thrilling scenes at the Admiral Benbow inn. I was enthralled by exotic characters such as Silver, Blind Pew and Ben Gunn. Even though I knew much of the story already, the suspense remained powerful. The language was clear and expressive, the motives of the characters all too credible, and when I reached the end I was breathless with the excitement of understanding that Silver was still out there. And so was some of the treasure…

I re-read Treasure Island most years and it still holds my attention. I still find fresh delights in its pages. For me, it's a book that has everything. Stevenson was a master of so many different styles of writing. But for me, Treasure Island remains his masterpiece, and masterclass.

Val McDermid's 'The Skeleton Road' is published by Little, Brown

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