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Book set in Malaysia (perfect Paradise Perhentian)

30th March 2014

Stranded by Emily Barr set in the Perhentian Islands, Malaysia.

This is another novel that, if I had not been working for TripFiction, I daresay I may never have come across. And when I found an article in KLM’s Holland Herald inflight magazine, naming among others the Perhentians as ‘Paradise Found’ I felt further inspired to read the book! After all, who doesn’t want to experience a bit of paradise!

I travelled to the Perhentian Islands, off the Malaysian Peninsula, in 2006 and reading this book evoked all kinds of pleasurable memories of my own, although the storyline in no way mirrored my own experience…(thank goodness!)


“Stranded” by Emily Barr and a copy of KLM’s Holland Herald highlighting the Perhentians as ‘Paradise Found’

Esther starts her journey in Kuala Lumpur, just a few days before she turns 40, with a failed marriage behind her. Her daughter Daisy is being cared for by her ex, Chris. For Esther, this holiday is intended as a voyage of self discovery and a means of replenishing her energy reserves, she needs and wants a total break on a tropical island. Esther is resourceful enough to find her way by bus from KL to Kuala Terrengganu, to Kuala Besut and over by boat to the Perhentians, Kecil and Besar, a journey I was thrilled to observe her make, as it was one I too made all those years ago. I was there with her in spirit, avoiding the open sewer holes in the coastal towns, and on the islands revisiting the big reptiles, the sticky heat, the amazing vegetation and just the glorious setting that makes these islands so special.

Days of indolence on the beach become the norm until Esther and some new acquaintances are invited by Samet on a day trip by boat to a ‘real’ tropical island, uninhabited and remote. Once they arrive on the deserted island, Samet discovers he has forgotten his lighter to start the fire for their barbecue, so zips back to Perhentian Kecil. And that is that. He never comes back and they are stranded, days turn to night, the sun rises and sets; and this becomes their routine, for days and more days, time is indeterminable. Water and food have to be found. Of course there are overtones of Lord of the Flies, characters turn on each other, despair stirs after a while, and madcap plans evolve.

In the book there is a parallel second story, which describes the plight of Catherine, who has been brought up in a religious sect run by Moses, and who has fathered most of the children in the compound. Catherine determines to run away, and the reader is left to wonder how the two stories will eventually tie up. Some red herrings along the way may throw the reader off course, they may not.

All in all this is a great holiday read that will transport you to this part of Malaysia for the price of a book! And I wish I had had access to this novel when I visited the Perhentians. I could have sat on the beach, safe in the knowledge that I would have a bed at night, and food when I wanted it, but my imagination could have been fired as I looked across the ocean – I could have identified innumerable little boats that could have belonged to Samet, I could have imagined the giant lizards strolling through the jungle (in fact one spent a lot of time living under my hut) and I perhaps might have wondered how I myself might have fared, should I have found myself ‘stranded’. Happy reading.

Tina for the TripFiction Team

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