Title: One Night on the Island
Author: Josie Silver
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Publication date: February 15, 2022
Length: 368 pages
Genre: Contemporary romance
Source: Review copy via NetGalley
Spending her thirtieth birthday alone is the last thing that dating columnist Cleo wanted, but she is going on a self-coupling quasi-sabbatical–at the insistence of her boss–in the name of re-energizing herself and adding a new perspective to her column. The remote Irish island she’s booked is a far cry from London, but at least it’s a chance to hunker down in a luxury cabin and indulge in some quiet, solitary self-care while she figures out her next steps in her love life and her career.
Mac is also looking forward to some time to himself. With his life in Boston deteriorating in ways he can’t bring himself to acknowledge, his soul searching has brought him to the same Irish island in search of his roots and some clarity. Unfortunately, a mix-up with the bookings means both solitude seekers have reserved the same one-bedroom hideaway on exactly the same dates.
Instantly at odds with each other, Cleo and Mac don’t know how they’re going to manage until the next weekly ferry arrives. But as the days go by, they no longer seem to mind each other’s company quite as much as they thought they would…
Written with Josie Silver’s signature warmth, charm and insights into the human heart, One Night on the Island explores the meaning of home, the joys of escape and how the things we think we want are never the things we really need.
Oh, dear. Based on the number of 5-star gushing reviews already posted on Goodreads, this is going to be a minority opinion. Dare I say it? I actually liked this book… but hearts and flowers and best thing ever? No.
A quick overview: Cleo is a dating and romance writer living in London, with a big, busy life that’s pretty hollow at its core. Her editor pushes her to try something radical as her 30th birthday approaches: Head to a remote island off the coast of Ireland and plan a self-partnering ceremony. Essentially, she’ll be stepping off the dating merry-go-round and focus on committing to herself.
Meanwhile, Mack (spelled with a “k” in the book, not as shown above in the synopsis I pulled from Goodreads) is seeking peace and connection with his roots. He grew up hearing stories about Salvation Island from the grandmother who was born there. He’s a devoted husband and father whose wife has pulled away. Now separated for a year, he’s in constant pain hoping to be allowed back into the life he once had, and thinks it would be best for him and his two boys if he stopped hovering around and gave his wife space to figure out what she wants. He’s a gifted photographer, so his time away will also give him an opportunity to explore Salvation the way he’s always wanted to.
In a very cutesy meet-cute, Mack and Cleo are both booked into Otter Lodge, a secluded (not luxury, per the synopsis) cottage on a secluded area of the island. Neither is willing, or even able, to change their plans, since it’ll be a week until the next boat back to the mainland, and there are simply no other accommodations on the island.
With no choice, they settle in and establish rules, going so far as to draw a chalk line down the middle of the cottage. But as their forced togetherness continues, they start to share pieces of themselves with a stark honesty that’s missing from their normal lives, and at the same time, begin to connect with the quirky residents of Salvation. (Of course they’re quirky. Aren’t all small-town community residents quirky in romance novels? Hearts of gold, too, and with open arms for strangers, because that happens in real life.)
Anyway… you can see where this is going. Cleo and Mack make an incredible connection, Cleo finds the inner peace and meaning she’d been missing, and Mack comes to realizations about his marriage, his children, and where he belongs.
I liked the story well enough, and tore through it. It’s a fast read, and I enjoyed Cleo and Mack’s routines and interactions and the sparks that build between them. But, my cynical side couldn’t stay quiet long enough for me to ignore certain issues, either.
First, and this is possibly a complaint more about the book’s marketing rather than the story itself… but the title is terrible and is completely misleading. This isn’t about ONE NIGHT on an island. The point is, Mack and Cleo spend weeks in each other’s company, and it’s the slow, steady accumulation of familiarity and their ability to share pieces of themselves and express themselves honestly as they build trust that finally bring them together emotionally. It’s not at all about just one night. Sheesh.
Second, the set-up is confusing. This is one of the rare reading experiences that’s much better in its second half than in its first. When Cleo’s editor pushes her to go to Salvation, there’s no discussion of parameters or for how long. Cleo’s expenses and lodging are being paid for by the magazine (nice!), and from their initial conversation, I thought it would be for a weekend, or at most, a week. But no, it’s actually for months! Whose work would pay for them to go away like that to write columns about self-partnering? For a 29-year-old who writes a dating column, this seems incredibly unrealistic, and the lack of specificity about Cleo’s plans made it confusing when she and Mack were trying to hash out who had stronger claims to the cabin.
My biggest quibble is the whole stuck-together trope in play here. And I know, it’s a romance, and we’re supposed to just go with it. But honestly, think about it. If you found out you were going to have to spend even one night, let alone a week or longer, in a completely isolated cabin with a man who’s a total stranger, what would you do? I’d be running for the hills, probably begging some kind townsperson to let me sleep on their couch until the next boat home. I had to wonder — if Mack hadn’t been age-appropriate and gorgeous, would Cleo have agreed to this arrangement? It doesn’t make any sense, and of course I understand that this is the foundation of the entire story… but maybe that’s why I can’t go any higher than 3.5 stars.
On a positive note, I did enjoy how feelings and connection developed between the two main characters, and I liked having chapters from both of their points of view. I also appreciated how their time at Salvation enabled each of them to center their own needs and priorities within their relationship, not forcing either one to drop everything or fundamentally change who they are or what they want for the other. And finally, I love Mack’s devotion to his children and their well-being, putting their needs above everything else, including his desire to be with Cleo. His overarching decision-making process focuses on the boys, and that’s right and good in a very heart-warming way.
I looked back at my reviews of this author’s two previous books, and I have to say that perhaps this author and I just aren’t a match made in heaven. The pattern, based on three books now, seems clear — I like the writing style and many of the elements about the characters, and it’s easy to get swept up in the romance of it all… but too many of the finer details and plot points don’t stand up to the cold light of day when I apply my logical brain to them.
One Night on the Island (ugh, that title!) is an engaging, quick read, but I can’t say I ever believed in the wonder and romance of it all quite enough to override the pieces that didn’t work for me. Despite not completely loving it, I liked it well enough to recommend as a feel-good getaway from the daily grind.