Reviews provided by Syndetics
Australian screenwriter and director Barrett's first novel is presented as the memoir of 49-year-old Mary Davidson. The daughter of a highly respected whaler, Mary writes of the whaling season of 1908, when she was 19 and in love with a member of her father's crew, the enigmatic John Beck, who claims to be a former Methodist minister. Mary writes evocatively of whaling as it was practiced a century ago, giving readers a firsthand look at the violent and bloody enterprise, which is helped along by a pod of killer whales who corral the whales who are the targets of Mary's father and his crew. Her mother dead, Mary, the eldest daughter, is left to manage the house and her younger siblings, including her feisty sister, Louisa. Mary is less successful at managing her heart and her unconsummated affair with John Beck, who remains a puzzle. Highly episodic, the novel as memoir is told with a degree of nostalgia and yearning that are infectious, drawing readers into the action of this absorbing historical romance.--Cart, Michael Copyright 2016 Booklist
Kirkus Book Review
While Australian screenwriter Barrett bases her first novel on the story of real-life whaler George "Fearless" Davidson, George's prickly yet endearing daughter Mary is the star.Thirty years after the fact, Mary Davidson sets out to write about the season of 1908, which she sees as a turning point in New South Wales' whaling businessthe beginning of the decline in the number of whales as well in demand for whale oil, as kerosene became widely available, and for whalebone, as women stopped wearing corsets. In 1908, Mary is 19 years old and running the household, which includes her three younger sisters and two brothers, for her widowed father. Her portrait of family life is drolly tart and unsentimental. Actually, so is her portrait of herself, until the day ex-Methodist minister John Beck shows up to work for Mary's father despite a complete lack of experience as a whaler. Mary is never able to piece together Beck's whole back story, and neither is the reader; maintaining the mystery of his past and his motives is a daring choice by the author, teetering as it does between provocative and irksome. Despite Mary's awkward manners, she and John begin a flirtation that threatens to become something deeper. Meanwhile, Mary's pretty and charming 16-year-old sister, Louisa, whom Mary claims to disdain for her frivolity, wards off a variety of suitors. But Louisa proves more complicated than Mary realized when she makes a shocking decision that throws the family into chaos. Mary's narrative reflects her just-the-facts-ma'am personality, and she describes the fundamentals of whaling in more depth than will interest any but the most die-hard aficionado (although the relationship between the whalers and the local killer whales, with names like Tom and Jackson, is fascinating, given what scientists have since discovered about their intelligence). But despite herself, Mary's emotions slip between the facts, particularly in small, often bittersweet asides about what's happened to various Davidsons in the years since 1908. Yes, there's a lot of whaling talk, but with a narrator reminiscent of Jo March, the sensibility here is more akin to Little Women than Moby-Dick. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.