Moonlight and the Pearler’s Daughter by Lizzie Pook

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For readers of The Light Between Oceans and The Island of Sea Women, a feminist adventure story set against the backdrop of the dangerous pearl diving industry in 19th-century Western Australia, about a young English woman who sets off to uncover the truth about the disappearance of her eccentric father.

Western Australia, 1886. After months at sea, a slow boat makes its passage from London to the shores of Bannin Bay. From the deck, young Eliza Brightwell and her family eye their strange, new home. Here is an unforgiving land where fortune sits patiently at the bottom of the ocean, waiting to be claimed by those brave enough to venture into its depths. An ocean where pearl shells bloom to the size of soup plates, where men are coaxed into unthinkable places and unspeakable acts by the promise of unimaginable riches.

Ten years later, the pearl-diving boat captained by Eliza’s eccentric father returns after months at sea—without Eliza’s father on it. Whispers from townsfolk point to mutiny or murder. Headstrong Eliza knows it’s up to her to discover who, or what, is really responsible.

As she searches for the truth, Eliza discovers that beneath the glamorous veneer of the pearling industry, lies a dark underbelly of sweltering, stinking decay. The sun-scorched streets of Bannin Bay, a place she once thought she knew so well, are teeming with corruption, prejudice, and blackmail. Just how far is Eliza willing to push herself in order to solve the mystery of her missing father? And what family secrets will come to haunt her along the way?

A transporting feminist adventure story based on Lizzie Pook’s deep research into the pearling industry and the era of British colonial rule in Australia, Moonlight and the Pearler’s Daughter is ultimately about the lengths one woman will travel to save her family.

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Rating: 3 out of 5.

Moonlight and the Pearler’s Daughter by Lizzie Pook

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was a super interesting read. One to stir up engaging conversation for sure. I think those looking for some historical insight and perspective regarding cultural practices with a modern outlook will enjoy this one and is definitely an insightful one to discuss at book club.

Thank you to Book Club Favorites at Simon & Schuster for the free copy for review.

Expected publication: June 14, 2022.

The Story
I enjoyed the more adventurous aspects of the storyline.

Pearl harvesting and the industry in Australia, colonization by the British, as well as civil and authoritative corruption are major themes, which I felt was lesser known and interesting to read about.

I appreciated the amount of research for the backdrop of the story. Really enjoyed the historical and cultural note at the end. I would have wanted more of those notions weaved into the story itself, opposed to certain principles and themes overlayed upon certain historical events with this certain viewpoint as we see it today, where the the characters felt like an afterthought. There was an immersive quality that was missing as a result.

Sort of depicts generalizations and almost a certain amount of morality that wasn’t really defined and therefore doesn’t really materialize in the book at the stories unfold, especially amongst native or foreign villagers, whether in scene sequence or character growth. The story shares a lot of history, which was certainly intriguing, but I would have enjoyed it more as an integrated part of a backdrop or in character and actionability.

I enjoyed the diary entries in between. I think those observances and reflections may have been enough to provide social and cultural context. Especially because the other research aspects included in the narration of the story felt like factoid inserts which became so much of the focus of the story that it overshadowed the feelings I was hoping to explore and develop, which in turn was more reactionary than connectivity to the characters or the time and place.

Puts a more modern, divided, and controversial outlook and judgement to the past, telling the more gruesome aspects of sea commerce and sea village life. Doesn’t deconstruct the nuance that I was hoping it would explore amongst culture, values, tradition, symbolism, livelihood, and meaning, nor does it explore oppositional viewpoints that would have added humanistic qualities, conflicting feelings, failures, and strength to the overall premise.

Instead provides a grim outlook on humanity, most men in her life aside from her father. The animal kingdom, its danger and perilous nature. Wallows in the more unfortunate of circumstances. Typically without entertaining any counter or oppositional thought that I think could have provided perspective and anchoring to the counter measures being depicted.

There wasn’t as much unifying appeal while the quest dragged on. No breakdown or erosion nor rebuilding to reflect upon in either reconciling with the past or looking into the future.

All in all, in story summary, I found that it lacked framing. Centered around this circular quest and historical factoids rather than one cohesive piece of writing from a more personal perspective. Passion for the topic and characterization from a performance standpoint was super strong, but the themes felt less connected to the main character herself, especially from interpersonal and intrapersonal growth.

The Writing
I absolutely loved the setting, the set up of scenes. Elements to build the scenic nature and overall atmosphere was there from a technical standpoint, but I would have liked more connection the the characters and their viewpoint and an attachment of meaning somehow whether favorable or unfavorable to help solidify them as characters in the scene rather than mere observers of every little detail that was depicted.

POV as third person was perhaps the less persuasive and least compelling aspect of the entire story. First person would have been stronger I think or a more integrated but nuanced emotional dynamic or a deeper exploration into humanistic qualities and connectivity.

Descriptions
Overly descriptive, similes, this like that. The story gets buried in the descriptive details. I liked some of the descriptions but they became too numerous in both quantity and level of detail.

Tone
Almost a modern activist lens projected on the past with a type of persecution complex and view of the world as incredibly dangerous, destructive, scary, and beyond repair over supporting one that bears beauty or simply inhabitable. I would have liked to have explored the main character’s ideas on the latter.

Characters
I enjoyed aspects of the main character, but she never really develops, nor does she become fruitful. She’s driven, strong, and hopeful, but more in the stubborn, relentless way, not so much in complexity, sacrificial dynamics, or passionate belief. Everything we know about her is based on scarce presupposition and the factoids we’re presented with. Her stakes in the backdrop of what was actually happening felt very static. Felt a bit disconnect like I was watching her watch her own life. She exists outside and in parallel to the events from start to finish. Maybe that’s to do with the POV being in the third person, but even then we don’t get to know what makes her tick and what other qualities she has to offer other than the quest for reconnecting with her father in the more physical form. Which in the way it ends, doesn’t make for a very satisfying ending. Doesn’t speak to redemptive value or legacy.

I would have liked more emotional expression amongst the villagers and collective grief and either common or proper perspective as felt by a community.

Lots to talk about in book club and I will look forward to discussing it.

I would definitely love to read more from this author, whether an exploration of ideas or seaside setting, and see what comes next in a story.

View all my reviews

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