Fact As Better Than Fiction, December 22, 2004
Reviewer: Grady Harp (Los Angeles, CA United States)
John Allen has taken a daring step in researching the diaries of a 19th century young woman, Maximilienne Carpentier, who washed ashore in 1877 on the coast of Denmark babbling utterances about an island, a woman named Emilie, and other bits of minutiae until she died soon after from exposure. She had strapped to her body a diary that survived her long time at sea following a shipwreck and that diary was saved, most people thinking this strange young woman was simply mad. It is much to the credit of John Allen and his wife that after extensive research into the details outlined in the diary, this fascinating story surfaces as a novel based on historical fact.
"The present cannot be slave to the past, for then the future would rise up our master." Maximilienne Carpentier (1855 - 1877).
And so begins the tale of the Carpentier family - mother Agathe, father Pierre and child Maximilienne - who were brought to an island by shipping captain Claude Besson as a safe refuge for Pierre, who had been imprisoned in France for stealing a jug of goat's milk for his infant daughter (shades of Les Miserables). The three make the island a paradise of familial bliss until the death of the mother and the subsequent death of the father that leaves young Maximilienne to grow up knowing her father's history and yet determined to live alone on her island. Captain Besson has continued to bring supplies to the Carpentiers and now comes ashore to meet Maximilienne and bring her the distressing news that she has enemies in the family in France who plot to take her island home.
The remainder of this page-turner story is one of high intrigue with the arrival of the dreaded aunt Camille with her children Victor and Emilie. Maximilienne is forced to struggle for her life and in doing so she discovers many dark and heinous secrets of her aunt, and even of her supposed benefactor Captain Besson.
How this all works out is a spiraling mystery that proves that fact outdoes fiction anyday! With John Allen's adept writing we are transported to another era when family fortunes, class status, piracy, and munitions daring-do were de rigueur. From the dairy of a young woman Allen has fashioned a fine novel that pleads for more information about his fascinating subject. A fine read!
Grady Harp, December 2004
Thoroughly engrossing, December 20, 2004
Reviewer: Jeffrey Leach (Omaha, NE USA)
John Allen has written one of the most compelling works of historical fiction I have seen in a long, long time. "The Islander," the first book in a proposed three-part saga, tells the story of Maximilienne Carpentier. Who is Maximilienne Carpentier? According to the book's introduction, Allen and his wife took a trip to Scandinavia some years ago and discovered Carpentier's diary in a small maritime museum on the coast of Denmark. Intrigued by the basics of the story, further investigation uncovered a mysterious yet intriguing tale: a young French woman washed up on shore after a powerful storm in the year 1877, babbling away in her native tongue about an island and someone named Emilie. Since the locals did not understand French, and Maximilienne was suffering from prolonged exposure to the harsh elements, the Danes wrote off most of what she said to exhaustion and delusion. Carpentier died soon after, and the diary traveled up and down the coastline before coming to rest in the museum. When Allen and his wife translated the document, they discovered numerous references to Charles VII, Emperor Pedro II of Brazil, and other verifiable historical figures. It began to sound as though Carpentier was far from delusional after landing on the coast of Denmark.
The diary begins with bucolic descriptions of life on an unnamed island somewhere between France and French Guiana. Only three people live on the island: Maximilienne, her mother Agathe, and her father Pierre. Their existence is exceedingly tranquil, filled with days of simple labor and mild amusements. Maximilienne spends her time writing, drawing pictures, swimming, playing with turtles in the ocean, and exploring the various caves and rock formations on the island. There is also plenty of work to do, such as fishing, tending the vegetable garden, and repairing the small structure the family calls home. Every few months a ship, helmed by a family friend named Claude Besson, arrives at the island bringing newspapers and critical supplies unavailable in nature. Despite the occasional dangers the family face, such as isolation from civilization and the storms that move through from time to time, all three get along splendidly. Maximilienne loves her mother and father and willingly accepts her life away from France. She's never known anything but her existence on the island and thus never questions her parents about why they live here. After Agathe passes on, daughter and father continue on as before. But when her father suddenly falls ill, he summons Maximilienne to his bedside for an important conference.
Although Pierre expires before finishing his story, his daughter learns some important information about why the family resides on the island. Apparently, Pierre fled France with his family after escaping from prison. Times were rough when Maximilienne was a child, so rough that her father stole some goat milk from a farmer to nourish his child. Alas, the authorities discovered the crime and apprehended Pierre. With the help of Agathe and Claude Besson, Pierre escaped from prison and eluded a large manhunt until the time he could set sail for the island. The Carpentier family has lived away from the homeland ever since. This revelation, that her father is a criminal, deeply shocks Maximilienne. Even more shocking is her encounter with Claude Besson a few months later. The sailor fills in some of the gaps her father failed to discuss, specifically that Pierre is the scion of a wealthy French family involved in the arms industry. Maximilienne's father, Besson relates, wanted nothing to do with the selling of weapons, so his brother Maurice runs the business. Or at least he does on paper since his scheming, depraved wife Camille is the real power behind the throne. In no time at all Camille arrives on the island with a couple of thugs, her son Victor and her daughter Emilie. What follows is a battle of wits as Maximilienne does whatever it takes to save her home from the evil plans of Camille.
"The Islander" is a book chock full of action, romance, violence, and betrayal. In short, Allen's novel has all the makings of an extraordinarily entertaining read. Although the first part of the book moves slowly as the author fleshes out the daily activities of the Carpentier family, the plot kicks into high gear after Pierre succumbs to his illness. Maximilienne soon learns she can trust no one, and that life on the island has deprived her of the rudimentary social skills necessary in successfully reading other people's emotions and ulterior motivations. On several occasions her ignorance about what makes people tick nearly claims her life. It is to the author's credit that we totally buy into the idea of Maximilienne's initial gullibility and later wisdom. Allen has a way of writing about women that few male authors possess. He captures perfectly – although perhaps I should wait to see what a woman has to say about the book – the emotional turmoil a young woman goes through when facing down a lover turned enemy, as well as the mental anguish involved in making the grim decision to take another human being's life.
John Allen can write background, too. His descriptive powers know no bounds when describing the vitality of the island. Maximilienne lives and operates in a world teeming with natural wonders, from the waterfall and fresh water pools on one end of the isle to the rocky crags she scales with remarkable ease. These descriptions seem overdone in the first part of the book, but they come in handy when the action starts firing. You'll know exactly where she's doing what she's doing, and why, thanks to the author's thoroughness early on. I can think of no better compliment than to label "The Islander" a great read. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
Breathes vivid new life into a riveting historical mystery, December 28, 2004
Reviewer: Daniel Jolley "darkgenius" (Shelby, North Carolina USA)
The Islander is a riveting piece of historical fiction based upon author John Allen's translation of the diary of Maximilienne Carpentier, a young woman who washed up on a Danish beach in 1877 and died soon thereafter from exposure. None of her rescuers could understand her French tongue, catching only odd references to an island and a woman named Emilie, and none could read the diary which was strapped to the unfortunate young woman's body. John Allen found the diary in a local museum on the coast of Denmark, and he has finally made Carpentier's story available to the public with his interpretation of her private writings. It's an almost unbelievable story, having up to now been dismissed as the ravings of a dying madwoman, but Allen believes the story to be true and the depth of humanity seen in this extraordinary young woman of the nineteenth century is too deep and real to be dismissed.
Maximilienne's story is one of bucolic grace and wonder destroyed by the cruelty of her fellow man. She grew up alongside her father and mother on a remote, uncharted island in the Atlantic, delighting in the natural world around her and thinking nothing of the outside world. The island's only visitor came in the form of Captain Claude Besson, a family friend who brought supplies and stacks of newspapers to her father every few months. At sixteen, her mother dies and then, five years later, her father follows. Before his death, he confesses a shocking secret to his daughter - that he brought his wife and daughter to this island after escaping from prison. He also has far darker and more important secrets to confess, but dies before he can tell Maximilienne everything she needs to know. When Captain Besson next returns to the island, she learns more of the story from him, including the startling news that her father's sister-in-law is a vindictive, greedy woman who will attempt to claim the island for herself as soon as her own husband dies. Maximilienne has the original deed to the island, signed by none other than Charles VII of France, but she does not have proof that she is her father's daughter. Besson promises to help secure her birth certificate from France, and the naïve young lady develops a romantic relationship with her would-be hero.
Then, Maximilienne's world comes crashing down around her when her aunt Camille arrives suddenly on the island. What happens then is, if true, one of the vilest acts of violence and inhumanity the world has ever seen. Maximilienne has little choice but to fight for her island when her aunt's party of thugs next return to set up a permanent residence there. She becomes a murderess, although I don't know of a jury that would ever have convicted her given the facts of her situation, but the awful truths she continues to learn during the continuing ordeal hurt her more than her own guilt for taking others' lives. Only the most remarkable of individuals could overcome the depths of betrayal she endures and continue to fight the good fight to the very end.
The story of Maximilienne's journey from her beloved island to the Danish coast where she was shipwrecked is just the final tragedy to befall this amazing heroine. The circumstances of her death add great mystery to what is already a mystifying story. Allen has attempted to corroborate what he can of the story, using the historical references given in her diary. The life of Maximilienne Carpentier is almost too incredible to be believed, but Allen returns the breath of life into this mysterious heroine with his remarkably natural and fascinating retelling of her story. Certainly, questions and mysteries remain, not the least of which is the actual location of the mysterious island, but the force of Maximilienne's character subsumes most doubts or questions the reader may have as to the veracity of the tale. Whether it be true or not, this is an amazingly moving human drama that cannot help but fascinate the reader.
While The Islander does relate all of the facts recorded in Maximilienne's diary, it is only the first of a series of three books covering this fascinating subject. The sequels, Coming of Age and A Woman of Experience, revolve around the mysterious Emilie, whom, Allen learned, survived the shipwreck that took Maximilienne’s life. I for one cannot wait to learn what additional information Allen will provide in relation to this tragic story of a truly remarkable young heroine.
Interesting twist to the "tropical island" scenario, December 29, 2004
Reviewer: Charles Ashbacher "(firstname.lastname@example.org)" (Hiawatha, Iowa, United States)
This story is the translation of the diary of a woman named Maximilienne Carpentier, a young French woman who washed up on the western Danish coast in 1877. She died shortly after that and her diary, which was attached to her body, was moved from location to location until found in a private maritime museum by the author of this book. The story sounded intriguing and I thought it worthy of investigating, but I decided to read the story before checking on the historical validity of Maximilienne Carpentier.
Maximilienne and her mother and father are the only inhabitants of an island in the Atlantic where the weather is tropical. Their only contact with the outside world is the regular arrival of a ship captained by Claude Besson. Even though they are able to grow and catch their own food, the ship brings other supplies, including clothing and newspapers from France. Her mother dies and then her father grows ill. It is at that point that he tells her that he is a convicted criminal who escaped from the law, that his family is wealthy, was deeded the island by Charles VII, and to beware of the future.
After he dies, Maximilienne asks Captain Besson to come ashore and he informs her of the dangers from her family, particularly from the ruthless Camille. Unfortunately, she trusts him completely, falling in love with him and they spend the night in coital embrace. He leaves, promising to try to find her birth certificate, so that she can claim her inheritance.
Camille and her children unexpectedly arrive with two thugs, and they beat Maximilienne viciously, to the point where she aborts the child that she now carries. She recovers and develops a plan against Camille and her gang. However, she once again finds herself being too trustworthy and almost loses her life. In the end, Camille's daughter Emilie, who came to Maximilienne's aid, is the only one of Camille's gang or Claude's ship left alive. Emilie and Maximilienne then depart the island on Camille's yacht, only to be caught in a violent storm and shipwrecked.
While some aspects of the story are difficult to believe, they are not serious enough to damage the telling. Allen is a very good writer: I found myself caring about Maximilienne, hoping that she would be able to extricate herself from the traps.
After reading the book, I performed a Google search on the name Maximilienne Carpentier. I had noticed that there was no disclaimer along the lines, "This book is a work of fiction, any resemblance to any persons is simply coincidental." I found nothing definitive regarding her existence, although admittedly the search was rather brief. However, my instinct is that Maximilienne is a fictional creation, as her personal diary could not be published without approval of her estate. Enough names are mentioned in the "diary" so that it should not have been hard to track down her family. In any case, the story is written well enough so the fact of her existence is not necessary to complete it.
A very satisfying adventure tale, February 11, 2005
Reviewer: Ratmammy (Ratmammy's Town, CA USA)
The Islander by John M Allen
February 10, 2005
Courtesy of WWW.loveromances.com
Maximilienne Carpentier was an infant when her parents escaped with her to an unknown island in THE ISLANDER, a novel penned by John Allen. The marketing blurbs allude that Ms. Carpentier actually exists, with the story being based on a diary that Mr. Allen discovered on a trip to Denmark. This reviewer did not find any references of Carpentier on the Internet and is wondering if indeed this woman is a work of fiction. Nevertheless, the story of Maximilienne Carpentier, be it fiction or fact, is very fascinating, and will be remembered by this reviewer for quite some time.
THE ISLANDER may remind the reader of classics such as Robinson Crusoe or The Swiss Family Robinson, both of which are stories about survival in an environment that is mostly inhospitable to the average European of that time. THE ISLANDER takes place in the last half of the 1800's, at a time when France is going through political unrest. The three Carpentiers live on an unknown island alone: an island, the reader will discover that by legal rights belongs to Phillipe Carpentier, Maximilienne's father. The three live a comfortable life on that island despite the lack of "modern" conveniences, and have no desire to return to civilization. With the help of supplies that are delivered to them every few months by a mutual friend, Captain Claude Besson, it seems that the Carpentiers have the best of all worlds.
While her parents grew up in France, young Maximilienne does not know what it is like to live outside their tropical island, but her parents do everything they can to prepare their child in case they ever return to civilization. They teach her to read and write, and do their best to teach her about society and what would be expected of her in certain social situations. They also are in contact with the outside world through newspapers that Besson brings to them on his visits, and so Maximilienne is fully aware of the geography of the world, as well as current events and politics.
However, this novel is not only a tale of survival. When Maximilienne is left to fend for herself after the decease of her parents, she finds herself at the mercy of her uncle's shrewd wife, Camille, and seeks help from the kind Captain Besson. Her life soon changes for the worse, and her life now depends on her cunning and instincts.
While the novel is touted as being a true story of a young woman's attempt at survival on an uninhabited island during the 1800's, one may or may not believe that any of these events have come to pass. The author did his research and felt assured that some of the important references in Ms. Carpentier's diary did match up to historical facts, thus validating the diary that this book is based upon. This reviewer was caught up in the story and found she thoroughly enjoyed this book. It is quite possible that Maximilienne Carpentier may not have existed as John Allen thinks she did, but that is not what this reviewer is contesting. The story in itself was worth reading, and was a novel that was well written and well structured. It had all the elements that make a story a readable book. At the same time, the characters were likeable, including the "bad guys", and with the plot being fast paced, it was quite easy to read this book in only a few days. Overall, this reviewer is giving THE ISLANDER four stars.
Review by Tara Rogan
Historical fiction can often be a tricky genre. Stories can be either fascinating and well written, or dry and overdramatic; much of which is dependent on the historical matter the tale is based upon. In THE ISLANDER, by John Allen, the author brings the account of the virtually unknown Maximilienne Carpentier to life straight from the pages of her diary; he weaves it into a gripping, remarkable story of a woman’s extraordinary life and adventures through her chronicled experiences.
THE ISLANDER starts and ends in the eyes of Maximilienne; a girl raised on an island with her parents in the heart of the ocean, learning early on the ways of nature, how to fend for herself, and how to overcome the most difficult of challenges life can present. Their only contact is with Claude Besson, an apparent “friend of the family” who brings them supplies every few months on his shipping route. As the story unfolds, Maximilienne gradually discovers the true history of her family, and that there are others against her who fully intend to take everything away from her by any means necessary.
The author does a beautiful job with his narrator; Allen not only shows Maximilienne as a fascinating historical figure, but really brings her to life by giving her a distinct personality, vivid emotions, and a strong will for survival. The story engrosses the reader in its pages, painting a magnificent picture of this woman through her struggles, as well as the both tragic and touching events that help shape her life.
THE ISLANDER introduces readers to an amazing historical figure who had once been lost in the pages of history. Now, thanks to Allen, Maximilienne’s story is brought to life for all to experience and appreciate.
Review by Romance Junkies Reviewer BJ Deese
Author John Allen found Maximilienne Carpentier’s diary in a museum along the Danish coastline. After much research and interest, he was compelled to tell her story, and THE ISLANDER resulted.
In 1877 Maximilienne and her parents stowed away on a ship, and they were dropped off at an island. A few times a year, Claude Besson would deliver supplies to the little island family. They had a wonderful and peaceful life on their island, and all was right in Maximilienne’s world. But, soon her naivety would come to an end.
It wasn’t until many years later, when her father was dying, that Maximilienne learned the devastating truth about why their home was so far from civilization. After both her parents died, Claude Besson provided comfort, in many ways, to her. Maximilienne thought they would have a life together on the island, but those hopes were destroyed. Claude soon told her about her family she never knew existed. He said her sinister aunt would stop at nothing to take control of the island. But that was just the tip of iceberg for Maximilienne. She would soon be plunged into an unheard-of nightmare that would forever change her world. Maximilienne learns things about her parents that hurt, and she encounters evil and greed that cause her great pain.
Maximilienne Carpentier is an enigma in European history, but the truth of this woman lies within the pages of THE ISLANDER. She is a woman like no other. Her strength and courage prevail, and readers will be beyond captivated with her story. Her will to survive is near tangible, and the kindness in her soul is great. It would have been an immense honor to have known this woman for just one moment out of forever.
I cannot put into words the depth of emotion that this book made me feel. I cried, and I wanted to scream with rage at the horrors that this woman had to face. It was utterly fascinating and emotional. This is a book that I will recommend to anyone that likes to read, no matter what genre. And, it is a story that will remain with me for a long time. I know this will definitely be the best book I will read in 2005, if not the rest of my life. Author John Allen has put together a book that should be reprinted forever, and he has done a remarkable job of telling this woman’s story and verifying facts that collaborate with her diary. There’s no doubt I’ll be bookmarking his website and scouring bookshelves to find more historical novels that he’s written. The absolute highest praise goes to author John Allen for his effort in telling Maximilienne Carpentier’s story. May this courageous woman’s story be read worldwide!
Television interview by Tara Rogan
Q. What got you interested in writing historical fiction?
A. I like writing fiction in the first person, but have often found myself getting too autobiographical. I thought that writing something historical was one way of preventing that from happening, because it would take me out of my time zone; changing the location to somewhere unknown also helped, and writing as a woman (by far the most radical change) completed the cure. Or so I thought.
Q. What major elements did you deem necessary when portraying this female character?
A. As with all my books, I didn't have any idea where the story was going when I typed the first paragraph, so I wasn't trying to produce any major elements to start with. Maximilienne simply 'evolved' as I wrote: I just let her take me wherever she wanted to, and the way she developed is what you read in The Islander. All the essential elements are there, of course - love, hate, betrayal, murder, passion, grief, hope - but they all 'happened' as Max lived her life in each chapter, and at times surprised me as much as herself, like when she was deceived by her lover.I found her coming to grips with that really painful, although she handled it quite well once she got over the shock. Defensive killing was perhaps her worst moment, even worse thanmiscarrying, but her common sense prevailed, and Emilie, her cousin, spoke much encouragement into her heart. Emilie was another pleasant surprise: she arrived on the island so petulant and apparently spoilt, but as it turned out, her mother was the really spoiled one. Victor, Emilie's brother, redeemed himself in the end (another good element) but Maximilienne's last voyage produced a depth of despair I'd have loved to skip over. Unfortunately, I couldn't. That storm was waiting for her.
Q. You refer to many historical events throughout your book. How important were these bits of information to the story's timeline?
A. Historical information in The Islander was important in order to make Maximilienne's story genuine. In other words, I wanted to get the reader past wondering whether the story was true or not, because that would make them ask whether a man could write effectively as a woman.As it happens, my wife is French, and we were on the west coast of Denmark in the early 1990s, and did visit a museum or two, so it wasn't difficult to 'find' a diary that we translated from the original French. Establishing a definite date helped weave in real events (like the war in Crimea, for instance, or the French art scene), and this type of thing worked well in order to establish Maximilienne's background and point of view. The eruption on Fogo in 1877 was something I found out afterwards, but it also helped.What I wanted more than anything else was for the reader to believe Max to be a real person, and the more I wrote, the more real she became to me. I hope the reader feels the same.
Q. Did you have any major struggles during the writing process of The Islander? If so, what were they?
A. The Islander was the most intense project I've ever undertaken: once Max appeared on the page, she came alive to such a degree that I felt she was living inside me (or perhaps me inside her). I was with her when she swam through the tunnel, enjoyed wonderful times at the waterfall; the way she loved her island; the way, in a sense, that she was the island, the two were inseparable; all this was part of me as well. I went to the island every time I began a new chapter, and left it, and her, when I finished. I knew every pathway she walked along, the turtle she rode and the sea that surrounded her. It's the sort of thing you have to experience to believe.The problem with this intensity of identification is that it can be very tiring, especially when things go wrong, but it also makes the story very easy to write. It was like an autobiography (the very thing I started out wanting to avoid) just in a different time and place, and as a woman. I usually write a chapter a day, so every morning I'd read what happened to Max the day before, and pick up from there. She led me along, making me happy, sad, and everything in between. It was the trip of a lifetime, the ultimate high.
Q. What are your favorite literary works?
A. I love the Narnia series, plus anything else C.S.Lewis has written; Lord of the Rings (the book); I feast on Robert Pirsig (Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance; Lila), enjoy Arthur Conan Doyle, and then there are all the usual favorites like John Grisham, Nelson de Mille, Patricia Cornwell, etc, to keep me occupied in between. The Piano Tuner (Daniel Mason), is a beautifully written first novel, and The Bridges of Madison County, which I read before seeing the movie, made a lasting impression. I also enjoy autobiographies (surprise).
Q. Are you currently working on any new projects? What genres are you focusing on?
A. After I finished The Islander, I thought I was finished with the island as well, but the island wasn't finished with me. Emilie didn't die in the shipwreck, you see, and she eventually became every bit as volatile as Maximilienne. She finally re-appeared in Coming of Age, a sequel to The Islander. Then I really believed I was done, but no, I still wasn't finished, and so Emilie moved to the fore, revealing greater depths of character than I felt ready for. That was quite a challenge. The trilogy is now published in one volume as The Carpentier Diaries.
Since then I've been working on a revision of an earlier book that needed updating and that eventually turned into a major re-write. It’s titled Apartheid South Africa: An Insider’s Overview of the Origin and Effects of Separate Development, and is quite popular. After that, I'll probably have another look at something I wrote in between all the others, but it's totally different to anything else I've done. We'll see.