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

Sometimes there are stories which are just so weird that no one could make them up. The history of the Kingdom of Redonda is one of those: Redonda is an uninhabited, rocky island in the Caribbean, under the jurisdiction of Antigua, closest to the island nation of Montserrat. And it’s also the home of a kingdom which isn’t all that concerned about the actual governing of the island, but more interested in its relationship with literary circles. And it has a disputed kingship. Once Michael Hingston learns about the Kingdom of Redonda in 2013, from All Souls, a book by Javier Marias, a Spanish author and one of the claimants of the throne of Redonda, he’s hooked. What is Redonda? How did it become a kingdom? What’s the history? And what does it all mean?

“The strangeness of the story of the Kingdom of Redonda is one I got easily swept up in, as Hingston unspools the history of the island.”

Hingston brings us down the rabbit hole with a highly comprehensive book, Try Not to Be Strange: The Curious History of the Kingdom of Redonda. It can be dense and meandering since Hingston spares no trail in trying to learn the truth about Redonda and anything related to it, but it’s also fascinating, a joke sometimes taken seriously, a literary estate, and a strange colonial project without any follow-up. Very few people have ever been to Redonda; it was once a site for guano harvesting, though that dropped off quickly. The Kingdom of Redonda itself dates back to the birth of fantasy author M.P. Shiel, who claimed he was crowned king by his father, who decided to claim the island because it appeared to be unclaimed. From there, the story lay dormant for a while, before Shiel revived it and passed the title to John Gawsworth. From there, it became a committed myth.

The strangeness of the story of the Kingdom of Redonda is one I got easily swept up in, as Hingston unspools the history of the island. Full of plots, intrigue, friendship, feuds, and literature, Hingston brings together all of the strange threads into a bizarrely enchanting history. It certainly reads more like a textbook at times, but it is ultimately a well-researched story of something so bizarre that you can’t help but be absorbed by it.

Curiously, this history was published just after the death of Javier Marias, or King Xavier of Redonda, leaving the dispute over the kingship, which Hingston details as well, even more in tatters. It’s a great story, and one that has the potential to grow further. For a work which blurs the lines between reality and myth, Try Not to Be Strange is a fascinating book.

Michael Hingston is a writer and publisher in Edmonton, Alberta. He is the author of the books Let’s Go Exploring and The Dilettantes, as well as the co-author of Harnarayan Singh’s memoir One Game at a Time. Hingston’s writing has appeared in WiredNational GeographicThe Atlantic, and the Washington Post. He is also one of the co-founders of Hingston & Olsen Publishing, makers of the Short Story Advent Calendar and other literary experiments.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Biblioasis (Sept. 13 2022)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 302 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1771964154
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1771964159

Alison Manley has ricocheted between New Brunswick and Nova Scotia for most of her life. Now in Halifax, Nova Scotia, she is the Cataloguing and Metadata Librarian at Saint Mary's University. Her past life includes a long stint as a hospital librarian on the banks of the mighty Miramichi River. She has an honours BA in political science and English from St. Francis Xavier University, and a Master of Library and Information Studies from Dalhousie University. While she's adamant that her love of reading has nothing to do with her work, her ability to consume large amounts of information very quickly sure is helpful. She is often identified by her very red lipstick, and lives with her partner Brett and cat, Toasted Marshmallow.