cover image Try Not to Be Strange: The Curious History of the Kingdom of Redonda

Try Not to Be Strange: The Curious History of the Kingdom of Redonda

Michael Hingston. Biblioasis, $18.95 trade paper (302p) ISBN 978-1-77196-415-9

Journalist Hingston (The Dilettantes) paints a richly textured portrait of the uninhabited Caribbean island of Redonda and its unlikely status as a “micronation” ruled by a succession of literary figures. Claimed by the British in 1869, the island was valued for its “thick layers of guano,” which contained phosphates used in the manufacture of fertilizers and gunpowder. Hingston became interested in the island after a “chance encounter” with Javier Marías’s 1989 novel All Souls, which includes a reference to British poet John Gawsworth as heir “to something called the Kingdom of Redonda.” From there, Hingston traces the legend of Redonda back to 19th-century science fiction author M.P. Shiel, who claimed that, on his 15th birthday, his father and a local bishop brought him from nearby Montserrat to Redonda and declared him the island’s king. Hingston also delves into Shiel’s best-known novel, The Purple Cloud, which predicted the end of the world via poison cloud, and documents his collaboration with the “eccentric but troubled” Gawsworth and the convoluted succession plan they developed to ensure that “the Redondan legend would live on.” Full of colorful personalities, exotic locales, and unexpected twists, this is a jaunty historical footnote. (Sept.)