Josie Silver's third novel walks a romantic line between fantasy and reality, and that turns out to be a very satisfying place to dwell for 350 pages. In Silver's hands, it's a place with mountains and rain, crashing ocean and tide pools, friendly strangers and a whiff of love.

Most of "One Night on the Island" is narrated by Cleo Wilder, a singles columnist for a London magazine who chronicles her own dismal dating life for readers.

As Cleo's 30th birthday approaches, her editor suggests that she take a long vacation and "marry herself" — that is, affirm that it is not a failure to be single, and that as "a vibrant, independent woman" she understands there are many ways to have a successful life.

(It's either that or a tattoo, apparently.)

But Cleo has to believe it, first. So off she goes to a remote island off the coast of Ireland to come to terms with singledom. The island has only one guesthouse. It's well-appointed, it's remote, it faces the sea, it's everything Cleo had hoped, except for one thing: It was double-booked.

Shortly after Cleo arrives, so does a rugged American stranger, a photographer named Mack who is giving his failing marriage some space while researching his Irish roots. (Mack narrates a few of the chapters.)

You might think this is a meet-cute situation, but Silver is smarter than that; both Cleo and Mack have so much baggage and so many entanglements that all they really want is to be alone. When it becomes clear that neither will leave, they draw a chalk line down the middle of the cottage and come to an uneasy truce.

Silver understands that by our 30s our lives have become complicated and messy, and both Mack and Cleo — as well as the highly entertaining secondary characters — have full-formed lives, problems and quirks. In different ways, both of them slowly come to understand that it's no good loving someone else until you learn to love yourself.

Laurie Hertzel is the senior editor for books at the Star Tribune.

One Night on the Island

By: Josie Silver.

Publisher: Ballantine Books, 358 pages, $17.