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The BookBrowse Review

Published September 20, 2017

ISSN: 1930-0018

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Book Jacket

Napoleon's Last Island
by Thomas Keneally
4 Oct 2016
432 pages
Publisher: Atria Books
ISBN-13: 9781501128424
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A remarkable novel about the friendship between a quick-witted young woman and one of history's most intriguing figures, Napoleon Bonaparte, during the final years of his life in exile on St. Helena.

In October 1815, after losing the Battle of Waterloo, Napoleon Bonaparte was banished to the island of Saint Helena. There, in one of the most remote places on earth, he lived out the final six years of his life. On this lonely island with no chance of escape, he found an unexpected ally: a spirited British girl named Betsy Balcombe who lived on the island with her family. While Napoleon waited for his own accommodations to be built, the Balcombe family played host to the infamous exile, a decision that would have devastating consequences for them all.

In Napoleon's Last Island, "master of character development and period detail" (Kirkus Reviews) Thomas Keneally recreates Betsy's powerful and complex friendship with the man dubbed The Great Ogre, her enmities and alliances with his remaining courtiers, and her dramatic coming-of-age. Bringing a shadowy period of history to life with a brilliant attention to detail, Keneally tells the untold story of one of Europe's most enigmatic, charismatic, and important figures, and the ordinary British family who dared to forge a connection with him.

"Like the late E.L. Doctorow, Keneally adapts his style to suit his subject matter, and here the high formality of 19th-century journal-keeping helps bring alive the bittersweet last days of Napoleon." - Publishers Weekly

"Evidently based on true accounts, the novel as told by Betsy has accurately reproduced the diction of a 19th-century writer, which occasionally slows the pace of this engaging work by well-known Australian author Keneally." - Library Journal

"Loosely based on actual events and real-life historical figures, Keneally's retelling of Napoleon's Saint Helena years through the eyes of a young girl on the cusp of womanhood makes for a deeply intriguing, if somewhat fanciful, read." - Booklist

"The faux regency prose is convincing without being unduly daunting. Clearly, Keneally's sympathies lie firmly with Napoleon and the Balcombes, as will the reader's." - Kirkus

"Insightful and nimble prose... Seamlessly unites fiction and the 'truth,' which means in this case that its armature of fact supports its layers of fictional invention as thought they were weightless. The delight Keneally took in pulling off this trick shows on every page." - The New York Times Book Review

"Deft, engaging... [he] finds such eager drama and pathos in the least likely of settings. The book is a complex and mesmerizing success." - Christian Science Monitor

"Keneally is one of the finest living English-language writers…and creates an intricate, intense world driven by power plays, culture clashes, secrets and deceptions." - The Star Tribune

"This brilliant reworking of a 19th-century footnote is more than historical fiction, it's an account of contemporary relevance... Few can match him as a storyteller, and this story deserved his attention." - The Guardian (Australia)

"One of the most enjoyable, high spirited and technically accomplished works of a long career ... This subtle and festive novel has afforded [an] intimate glimpse of high political drama entwined with domestic play." - The Australian (Australia)

"Keneally…succeeds, with touches of brilliance, in bringing to life characters in more detail than history ever possibly could. For it is not just a story about Betsy, it is also a coming-of-age story, one in which the protagonist gradually becomes aware of the foibles of human nature." - The Sydney Morning Herald (Australia)

Thomas Keneally began his writing career in 1964 and has published thirty-one novels since. They include Schindler's List, which won the Booker Prize in 1982, The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith, Gossip from the Forest, and Confederates, all of which were shortlisted for the Booker Prize. He has also written several works of nonfiction, including his boyhood memoir, Homebush Boy, The Commonwealth of Thieves, and Searching for Schindler. He is married with two daughters and lives in Sydney, Australia.

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