An Octopus in my Ouzo by Jennifer Barclay – Review

Published by Summersdale

Publication date – 12 April 2016

Source – review copy

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“Escape to the sunlight and colour of a wild island in the south Aegean.

When Jennifer moves alone into the Honey Factory on a tiny Greek island, bringing a laptop, her hiking boots and plans for a peaceful life, she has no idea what surprises are in store.

Diving into an exciting new life with a fisherman, she learns something every day. Joining the dancing at local festivals and helping at a café on the beach, surviving winter storms and finding a canine companion, she is faced with both challenges and rewards, and discovers that to become an island woman she must live small and think big.”

I read this book as part of the #travelbookclub on Twitter. Run by Emily-Ann Elliot (@grownupgapyear) it’s a fun way of reading fiction and non fiction that covers the world.

Jennifer Barclay moved to the small Greek island of Tilos unexpectedly alone after the breakdown of a relationship. Leaving the security of an employed position to a freelance role and the uncertainties of income she is determined to make a new home in Greece, and to embrace what her new life holds.

The book follows the cycle of the year and as it does we see how much Jennifer Barclay embraces and what she learns from her experiences. When the yearly events roll round again, she is involved in a more engaged way, armed with the understanding of the customs and beliefs of the islanders.

There are anecdotes about the everyday, walks taken, food eaten. (Be warned, this book will make you feel hungry! Food is discussed in great detail, with some dishes sounding mouth watering, others perhaps a little too adventurous for my palette.) These are interspersed with details about the history of the island (where the first bones of European Elephants were found for example), and local customs. We read about the author’s tentative steps to ingratiate herself into island life, attending dance classes, celebrating name days and teaching the local children English. There are also more personal details shared, the trials of dating a local when the language barrier can cause difficulties, and the heartbreak and pain of trying for a baby. This balance between the geographical and autobiographical creates a rounded book, it ensures that the descriptions and detail are not dry and the reader becomes more attached to Tilos. I could almost imagine myself there and made me day dream of travelling or living abroad.

There is a wonderful charm to the story and I found it a fascinating insight into island life. I would imagine that had she moved to a major city, Jennifer Barclay’s memoirs would have been dramatically different. There are no doubt differences between island and mainland life. There are the difficulties in sourcing items, shown by the fact that the islanders very rarely threw anything away. There is also the chance to ‘be lost’ in a big city, to not be able to be as involved in local life and customs, whereas on Tilos it appeared that it would have been more difficult to not be involved. Because it is set on an island I don’t think the book would give a rounded view of what it is like to live in Greece. It does however give a marvellous insight into what life is like in a small community, especially when you are keen to be involved in that community.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and my vicarious visit to Tilos. I hope that Jennifer Barclay writes more about her Greek adventures.

My thanks to the publisher for my copy of the book.

 

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