1886, BANNIN BAY, AUSTRALIA.
The Brightwell family has sailed from England to make their new home in Western Australia. Ten-year-old Eliza knows little of what awaits them on these shores beyond shining pearls and shells like soup plates – the things her father has promised will make their fortune.
Ten years later and Charles Brightwell, now the bay’s most prolific pearler, goes missing from his ship while out at sea. Whispers from the townsfolk suggest mutiny and murder, but headstrong Eliza, convinced there is more to the story, refuses to believe her father is dead, and it falls to her to ask the questions no one else dares consider.
But in a town teeming with corruption, prejudice and blackmail, Eliza soon learns that the truth can cost more than pearls, and she must decide just how much she is willing to pay – and how far she is willing to go – to find it . . .
Huge thanks to Mantle for sending me a proof copy of this beautiful book in exchange for an honest review.
Every now and then, a book comes along that ticks every single one of the boxes. Moonlight and the Pearler’s Daughter is exactly the sort of novel I adore, and I’m afraid this review will pretty much be a love letter to the perfect book! As a reader, it left me with that hugely satisfying feeling of getting everything I wanted. As a writer, it made me swoon with envy as Pook pulls off absolutely everything I’d love to achieve with my own first novel.
The setting is original, immersive and vividly described. Bannin Bay comes to life as a character in its own right, and the story is absolutely infused with its sweltering heat, the salty stink of the sea, the bush glowering behind the town. The sensory detail is almost overwhelming – I could see and feel and smell everything that Pook describes, and pausing during my reading (which I didn’t do often!) felt like waking up from the most vivid of dreams.
Eliza is a wonderful protagonist. I was completely invested in her story, with her every step of the way, admiring her courage, fearing for the dangers her stubbornness would lead her into – she is so fully realised, I did the thing of sometimes warning her out loud: “Not sure that’s a good idea, Eliza!” – but she didn’t listen to me! I want a film version of this book so badly, but I’d also be terrified that it wouldn’t match up to the novel. It is rare for a novel to feel quite so visual, so razor-sharp in its descriptive power – Pook works a special kind of narrative magic here, and it left me in awe.
The story zips along, full of intrigue and twists and turns, but always convincing. There are times when the lens is taken off Eliza, and I enjoyed these moments – they contain some really beautiful writing – although I was always glad to rejoin her on her adventures. The novel builds to an incredibly dramatic crescendo (no spoilers here, don’t worry) and ends in a way that I found completely satisfying. I can’t write intelligently about this book because I had such a strong emotional reaction to it – all I can do is urge you to read it! I’ve pre-ordered the beautiful hardback and can’t wait for it to arrive next year – this book is going on my forever shelf.
Moonlight and the Pearler’s Daughter by Lizzie Pook will be published by Mantle in March 2022, and is available to pre-order here.