Fabulous readings: the first novel shines

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Moonlight and the Pearler’s Daughter, Lizzie Pook, Pan Macmillan, ISBN: 9781529072853

ALTHOUGH the cover may hint at a magical, dreamlike tale, Lizzie Pook’s debut novel, Moonlight and the Pearler’s Daughter is, simply put – raw and gritty.

Prepare to be transported to the late 1800s, to a fictional small town along the coast of Western Australia – at the height of the pearl fishing industry, which infamously became synonymous with cruelty , greed and racism.

The story follows Eliza Brightwell, who with her family had moved from London to Bannin Bay ten years ago.

Although her beloved father has become one of the most successful pearlers in town, Eliza’s life has not been “smooth”. Things take a turn when, after months at sea, his father’s ship returns to the bay without him.

Rumors of a mutiny immediately begin to circulate in the town, and it is not long before one of his crew, Balarri – an aborigine – is arrested for his murder.

Eliza refuses to believe that her father is dead and is certain that Balarri, who took care of her as a child, has nothing to do with her father’s disappearance.

When her brother, Thomas, refuses to tell her about the night their father disappeared, then suspiciously insists on moving to a nearby town to protect the family business, Eliza decides to dig into the truth herself.

However, this quickly proves dangerous and nearly impossible. Although she is able to read information in her father’s diary, her status as a woman prevents her from moving around and asking the burning questions she must answer. Fortunately, she manages to find help and repeatedly finds herself in precarious situations. In her quest to save her friend and find her father, she also uncovers some hard truths about her family.

The story is fairly slow-paced, however, Pook’s creative use of similes and metaphors to paint the world vividly is perfectly balanced with the progression of the story – which kept me hooked. She masterfully guides you between the past and the present.

I found that every character and snippet of information had a purpose, and nothing felt forced or out of place. The racism and brutality of the time plays a big part in the story, however, Pook touched on and skillfully alluded to these topics without sensationalising them. And while I managed to guess how the story would end, it didn’t spoil the experience for me.

Eliza was a wonderful and strong female character. I couldn’t help but admire his resilience, bravery and intelligence. There are some other wonderful characters – some you’ll love to love and some you’ll love to hate.

I only have two criticisms: First, I loved Eliza’s secondary characters, and I would have liked to see them fleshed out a bit more. They were just as endearing as her. And finally, I felt that the truth behind her father’s disappearance was a bit far-fetched and downright weird.

Nevertheless, the book is full of adventures and mysteries. It’s guaranteed to appeal to anyone who loves historical fiction and adventure.

– Mariclair Smith 3/5 stars.

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