This lyrical novel by one of Mexico’s leading women writers explores both desire and the desire to tell a love story. In an idle moment between grading assignments, a French teacher sitting in a cafe in a Caribbean seaport town sketches an island on his white napkin.
Like Proust’s petite madeleine, the island opens up a host of images: “Island: the sum of all improbabilities; intoxicating improbability of fiction. Island: image of desire . . . All the islands formulated by human beings and all islands appearing on the maps comprise a single imaginary archipelago—the archipelago of desire.” Monsieur N.’s original plan to use a Jules Verne novel about shipwrecked schoolboys as a translation exercise for his pupils becomes an obsession to collect every reference to islands he can find and to meditate on them in a diary of his imaginary travels—his Islandiary. Parallel to this quest is an archetypal love story that he begins writing in his notebook, printed in a narrow column with islands of quotations surrounding it. Voyaging and the quest for islands becomes a metaphor for the search for paradise, for the island as an imagined place where love achieves perfection. It also becomes a metaphor for writing: “Every text is an island.”