“The Island of Sheep” by John Buchan – an old-style adventure story that has its problems but is also good fun

The Island of Sheep by John Buchan is another of this author’s books featuring his hero Richard Hannay who is best known for his appearance in The Thirty-Nine Steps which I mention here in a discussion of books with some problems for the modern reader. Another book in the same series is The Three Hostages which I reviewed here and found a difficult read for reasons I outline in the review. I read a lot of books by authors like John Buchan when I was a teenager and I still have a certain affection for the old-style adventure story whist being perfectly aware of its problems in terms of sexism, racism and British imperialism.

The Island of Sheep isn’t the worst of those I have read and is actually a thrilling story of a long lasting feud between two men which becomes a danger to the next generations. It does include some stuff early in the book about Africa which is not really acceptable anymore and a lot of the plot relies on the idea of keeping promises made and other such manly virtues but I think that the better parts of the story overcome some of these relics of the past.

The story involves Hannay and some of his friends in protecting a man and his daughter. A lot takes place in the British countryside where there hunting and shooting take place but the end of the book is on a Scandinavian island. Unusually for a Hannay book a lot of the story revolves around other characters and the chapters which feature his son and the young girl who is being sought is very good with the female showing as much spirit and ability as the male.

If you do want to read an old-fashioned, male dominated, adventure story then John Buchan is worth reading but you are always aware that his views and those depicted in the novel are not those of the present day and some are difficult to accept for the modern reader.

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