Irvine, Lucy 1956-
IRVINE, Lucy 1956-
PERSONAL: Born February 1, 1956, in London, England; daughter of hotel proprietors; married Gerald Kingsland (a journalist), April, 1981 (separated); children: Laurie, Magnus, Joe, Benji. Education: Attended British schools until age twelve.
ADDRESSES: Home—Scotland. Agent—Hilary Rubinstein, A. P. Watt Ltd., 26/28 Bedford Row, London WC1R 4HL, England.
CAREER: Has worked variously as a monkey keeper, artist's model, charwoman, apprentice stonemason, pastry cook, concierge, waitress, and tax clerk; writer.
MEMBER: Mensa, Chelsea Arts Club.
Castaway: A Story of Survival (autobiography), Gollancz (London, England), 1983, Random House (New York, NY), 1984.
Runaway (autobiography), Viking (New York, NY), 1986.
One Is One (novel), Hodder & Stoughton (London, England), 1989.
Faraway, Doubleday (New York, NY), 2001.
ADAPTATIONS: Castaway was made into a film by Nicholas Roeg, starring Oliver Reed and Amanda Donohoe, released in 1987.
SIDELIGHTS: Lucy Irvine recounts her year on a deserted tropical island in Castaway: A Story of Survival. Answering a newspaper ad for a "wife" placed by fifty-year-old British journalist and adventurer Gerald Kingsland, the twenty-five-year-old Irvine eagerly anticipated a physical and emotional survival challenge in a tropical paradise. What she didn't expect was that she would actually have to marry her male companion (a demand of Australian immigration authorities) and that delayed government approval would woefully reduce the pair's funds and supplies. Their yearned-for arrival on the mile-long island of Tuin, in the Coral Sea north of Australia, was soon followed by a grisly fight for survival that included malnutrition, sickness, and despair. Furthermore, while Irvine married solely to realize her island dream, Kingsland expected "all the services of a wife"—and her refusal to become intimate brought hostility and abuse from her survival mate. "The physical dangers . . . seem slight compared with the psychological ordeal . . . Irvine endured," observed Stephanie Mansfield in a Washington Post interview with the author. Irvine elaborated: "When you get a man and a woman and a piece of land, you have all the problems in microcosm of humanity. Sex. Violence. Politics."
Still, despite the devastating hardships, Irvine's love for Tuin flourished and she began to take pleasure in her own strength and endurance—with Kingsland becoming, at times, irrelevant. Natives from the nearby island of Badu also aided the couple by offering food and medical supplies. Irvine even submitted to Kingsland sexually when he threatened to cut their adventure short, for she was determined to complete the project. Three hundred sixty-five days after first setting foot on Tuin, Irvine returned to "the soft textures of civilization" with much to think about. The year "cost me a lot, but it gave me more," she confessed to Mansfield, though "for a while I thought it was the other way around."
A best-seller in England, Castaway was well received in other countries as well. While Toronto Globe and Mail reviewer M. T. Kelly described Irvine's story "of all too familiar domestic chauvinism, insensitivity and ugliness" as "a cautionary tale about the necessity of feminism," more critics perceived it as an arresting and well-written adventure chronicle. "Irvine writes a clean, accomplished prose," complimented Jonathan Yardley in the Washington Post Book World. "Her descriptive powers are acute, she has a good ear for dialogue, and she takes a refreshing pleasure in laughing at herself. The result is a book that is frank, engrossing and considerably more moving than one might expect such a tale to be." A critic for the New Yorker commented that Irvine's "feeling for place, for the island flora and fauna, and her emotional and intellectual candor . . . give her book a warmth and vigor of integrity." And Ms. reviewer Cheryl Huff urged: "Read Castaway for great vicarious adventure or if you've ever fantasized about being one of the Swiss Family Robinson. Although the circumstances of Lucy's marriage are unique, the truths and traumas of her experience are universal."
After publishing her second volume of autobiography, Runaway, Irvine turned to fiction. Her first novel, One Is One, was described in Publishers Weekly as a "curious blend of the sublime and the pedestrian." It follows the stories of four misfit characters whose lives intersect after Hodge, an ex-convict, falls through the protagonist's skylight in a botched burglary attempt. Observing that the novel's tone is a bit too heavy, a reviewer for Publishers Weekly nevertheless praised Irvine's sensitive characterizations and "singular ability to draw details and dialogue."
Sixteen years after her experience on Tuin, Irvine returned to the South Pacific at the invitation of Diana Hepworth, an elderly British woman who had moved with her family to Pigeon Island, a tiny outpost in the outer Solomon Islands, in 1957. A former fashion model, Diana had sailed around the tropics for several years with her husband, Tom, before the couple decided to purchase Pigeon from the neighboring Reef Islanders as an idyllic setting in which to raise a family. They had a daughter, and then twin sons, who grew up on Pigeon. In 1999, Diana asked Irvine to spend a year with them on the island and to write about the family's history there. With her three sons, then aged thirteen, eleven, and nine, Irvine made the arduous journey, which culminated in an eight-hour canoe trip that almost killed them when a surprise squall blew up.
As Irvine recounts in Faraway, the Hepworths' "wonderful" life had indeed contained wonders but had also been fraught with dangers, tragedy, and cultural conflicts stemming from racial prejudice. Basing much of the book on the diaries of Tom Hepworth, who had died in 1994, Irvine writes that the settlers remained aloof from their Reef Island neighbors and lived like imperial bosses. Their daughter, Tasha, exhibited uncontrollable tantrums as a toddler and was later diagnosed as schizophrenic. Tasha was sexually assaulted at age five by a man from a nearby island; her parents' only recourse was to publicly shame him. The Hepworths did not enjoy a happy relationship with their sons, who began acting out as teenagers and were eventually estranged from their parents.
In addition to chronicling the Hepworths' story in Faraway, Irvine also writes about her own experiences and those of her sons during their year on Pigeon Island. Reviewers appreciated this personal and historical mix. The book, according to Geographical contributor Chris Martin, "gives a rather satisfying new depth to Irvine's continuing Castaway story" and "does surprising justice to both of these extraordinary women." Guardian reviewer Kirsty Scott described the "compelling" book as "part Swiss Family Robinson, part Heart of Darkness." And Booklist writer David Pitt hailed the work as a "rich, detailed, often moving story" that "tickles the wanderer's imagination in all of us."
Irvine told CA: "Outside of what is published in my autobiographies, I wish to have my private life and interests kept as far as possible from the public eye."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, January 1, 2002, David Pitt, review of Faraway, p. 800.
Chicago Tribune, April 8, 1984.
Geographical, November, 2000, "Home and Far Away," p. 114; February, 2001, Chris Martin, review of Faraway, p. 96.
Globe and Mail (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), March 17, 1984.
Guardian (Manchester, England), November 6, 2000, Kirsty Scott, "What Lucy Did Next."
Library Journal, April 1, 1987, Judith Nixon, review of Runaway, p. 142.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, July 1, 1984.
Ms., July, 1984.
New Statesman, January 30, 1987, Helen Birch, review of Runaway, p. 30.
New Yorker, May 14, 1984.
New York Times Book Review, April 8, 1984; April 26, 1987, Ann Pringle Harris, review of Runaway, p. 25.
Publishers Weekly, February 6, 1987, review of Runaway, p. 82; June 29, 1990, review of One Is One, p. 86.
School Library Journal, December, 1987, review of Runaway, p. 40.
Sunday Times (London, England), November 12, 2000, Elizabeth Mahoney, "Castaway Who Never Returned to the Fold," p. 5.
Times Literary Supplement, June 16, 1989, Linda Taylor, review of One Is One, p. 669.
Village Voice, May 15, 1984.
Vogue, March, 1987, Francine Prose, review of Runaway, p. 314.
Washington Post, April 26, 1984.
Washington Post Book World, March 18, 1984.*