The good: Very familiar with the settings of the story.
The not-so-good: Start was a bit slow for me.
Why I chose it: Sounded interesting – thanks Penguin for sending me a copy.
Publisher: Bantam (Penguin)
Setting: North West Western Australia
Rating: 7.5 out of 10
I enjoy reading books set in my home state, so I was excited to read The Pearler’s Wife which primarily takes place in the north west of Western Australia in a fictional town based on the pearling town of Broome. It’s set in the early 1900s and combines an arranged marriage with skulduggery, secrets, ruthless actions and a touch of romance. It’s a lot more jam-packed that the serenity of the cover suggests! It took me a little while to get into the novel, but ultimately I was engrossed in the secret undercurrents of a small town far removed from the law and social niceties.
The central character is Maisie, sent to marry a distant cousin at his request. Maisie’s not entirely happy about it but it appears that her family is determined to see her leave England. With a large amount of luggage, she’s on a boat to Australia with her chaperone Mrs Wallace, who resides on a station in the north of Western Australia. On board, Maisie learns some things about her new home and notices with interest the British navy’s divers who will be joining her in Buccaneer Bay to try to displace the Asian pearling crews. Maisie is particularly intrigued by one diver, William Cooper and they eventually become friends. That’s lucky, because Maisie’s new husband Maitland isn’t anything to write home about. He’s rude, a heavy drinker and has very little interest in Maisie. She gradually works out she’s there for appearance’s sake and tries to settle into this hot, wet town. She finds friendships in her house staff but female friends are hard to find. But Maisie gradually finds out some of the secrets Maitland has been keeping from her. There are issues on the personal front, but most of all the pearling merchants are trying to sabotage the British divers any way they can…
I did find The Pearler’s Wife a little hard going at first, particularly the part where Maisie docked in Fremantle. Being familiar with that area, it didn’t really ring true for me with the constant mentions of ‘Port Fremantle’ (it’s always been Fremantle, the port bit is just the passenger terminal) and some of the language used by Mrs Wallace felt like contrived Aussie slang (like when she was speaking about the Aboriginal people). I felt the story greatly improved once the story moved to Buccaneer Bay. Even though it’s a fictional town, you could easily feel and relate to the town of Broome from the description of the Japanese cemetery to Anastasia’s Pool. There was a lot more action in the story than I expected and really liked! I honestly thought it would be a love story, but it isn’t. The descriptions of life in town and the lawlessness of a remote area were very well done. You could feel the humidity and the desperation of the townspeople who tried to create a little England in the middle of nowhere. Even though he’s meant to be the villain, I quite enjoyed Maitland’s exploits and plots. He’s bluntly evil, out to become the best no matter what it takes. His friend Blair, the town mayor, was nearly as bad with his lies. Did they both get what they deserved in the end?
The Pearler’s Wife is a powerhouse of a read, full of drama. Read it and be swept away!