A novel about a woman who becomes obsessed with a novel?

Levine Treasure Island

Europa Editions, 2011

Just the sort of story which is guaranteed to appeal to a voracious (even, at times, overly excitable) reader.

Even if the novel with which the main character is obsessed is Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, such a reader might be on board. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.)

Maybe Stevenson’s novels weren’t amongst your favourites as a young reader, and maybe attempts to read them as an adult have stalled, but bookish folk understand that bookish obsessions are peculiar.

[If I were to envision the outline of this story as my own, I would probably choose L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables as my bookish compass, with difficult choices between the ultimate beauty and intelligence and goodness to be made, and rules regarding the storage of liquor in cabinets and hair colour and poetry recitations to be followed.]

Sara Levine’s protagonist, who remains unnamed, perhaps identifying as an EveryReader, is looking for adventure, both on the page and in her life.

She is young, but she believes she has had enough worldly experience to determine her position in society, according to the wisdom encapsulated in the classic Treasure Island.

“If life were a sea adventure, I knew: I wouldn’t be sailor, pirate, or cabin boy but more likely a barnacle clinging to the side of the boat. Why not rise, I thought. Why not spring up that very moment, in the spirit of Jim, and create my own adventure?”

There she is: barnacle extraordinaire. Living her sea adventure on land. Uniquely qualified to pass judgement. On her boyfriend. On her boss. On her mother. On her sister. On literary quality.

“Great books? Great books? Lars, would you know a great book if it hit you in the ass with its registration papers? Treasure Island is a great book!”

By now, you’ve likely gathered that there are a lot of great lines and humourous quips in Sara Levine’s novel. Even the simple idea of consulting Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic novel for life advice is amusing.

The rules she identifies in the novel, the desirable qualities for success in life, all of these (with the exception of Horn-blowing) are ostensibly important. Where the humour resides is in her application of these principles to her everyday life.

In considering the Boldness with which she seeks to approach her life, she examines her boyfriend’s positioning on the matter.

“Boldness Perceived as a Continuum
Boldness – Impudence – Self-Reliance – Timidity – Cowardice”

There, in the right-hand margin, she handwrites Lars’ name. Beyond cowardice, there resides Lars, with three exclamation marks following his name. Land ho.

“Already I felt big with book the way a woman feels big with child. Was there room in this relationship for the two of us?
‘Lars, I want us to talk seriously about Treasure Island,’ I said as we reached my apartment. ‘Like, pretend we’re in a seminar.’”

But there, between the dogged fascination with a fiction and the plea for conversation, resides a lonely young woman who is looking for treasure.

Treasure Island!!! is a terrifically funny story, with the weight of an anchor hovering just beneath the surface.

“Instead she gave me the record of her accomplishments since rising at six in the morning and outlined, with cheerful precision, her tasks for the rest of the day. ‘You know me, I like to keep my ducks in a row.’ I knew what she thought my ducks looked like – scattered round the pond, wings drooping, heads listing, one call to Animal Patrol would confirm they had West Nile virus.”

Illness and listlessness, job loss and loneliness: being a barnacle is harder than it looks.

“The move home was a turning point for me. Well, less like a turning and more like a case of emergency in which you smash glass.”

Fortunately, there is Robert Louis Stevenson’s masterpiece to consult.

When in doubt, consult a novel.

Don’t you?