Author: Emily Madden
Publication Date: 20 August 2018
Publisher: Harlequin Mira
Copy: Courtesy of the Publisher
The Lost Pearl is the sophomore novel by Australian Emily Madden and it was definitely worth the wait. It is quite different from her debut, Summers with Juliette, in it’s setting and it’s subject matter but one thing the two books have in common is the way in which they tackle topics that tug the heart-strings, and then slap you around with them.
Told in dual timelines we have a family mystery, emotional baggage and unhealed heartache, war, loss and new beginnings. We have two glorious settings, beautifully drawn so that I wanted to visit; though I should probably add that I’m a sucker for the coast and love a good beach.
I read an uncorrected proof so there were some errors, there is also some room for changes to be made to the story before the final print but I really hope that there aren’t. The story worked, the characters were three-dimensional and realistic and the story was captivating. On second thoughts, I would like an extra couple of chapters, that could definitely work.
The Lost Pearl opens in Honolulu, 1941 at the 16th birthday party of Kitty McGarrie, the younger daughter of a Rear Admiral. The party is an extravagant affair, alright for the high ranking but in a time of war, when the rumours are flying about when they are going to be drawn into the war, it seems like a waste. Kitty herself isn’t loving the attention and the fact that she only knows half of the guests. It’s the night she meets her brother Eddie’s friend, and fellow officer, Charlie Florio. Charlie has little in common with Eddie and feels way out of his depth the moment he enters the party.
We learn a lot about Kitty and Charlie throughout the book, the chapters set in 1941 are told from each of their perspectives. Madden takes us inside the McGarrie family to get to know June and Rear Admiral McGarrie with their social standing and ingrained ideas about class and status. The family were only in Honolulu because of postings; the McGarrie’s are from San Diego and June met the Rear Admiral in Australia after World War One. Honolulu hasn’t been home long term but it has certainly become home. It’s home to Kitty’s school, her friends, her life and who couldn’t love the glorious beaches. There is talk of June and Kitty being sent back to America, or Australia, with rumours rife about how long before America is drawn into the war.
Charlie is best of friends with Eddie, who is quite down to earth, but he doesn’t get it that easy with everyone. There is friction with some of the other men in his unit because his upbringing is quite different to theirs but he doesn’t let any of it faze him too much, he just gets on with what he needs to do and tries to let it wash over him. That’s something a little easier said than done when there are people out there just set to bait you.
Jump to November 2016, Sydney. Gran, Catherine Bennett, has had a fall and is recovering in hospital. She wakes to the concerned face of her only grand-daughter Kit. Right from this first interaction you can tell that the two share a very special bond. We don’t know it at the time, but it soon becomes apparent this is the bond often shared between the grandmother and first granddaughter if there were no daughters. Well, that’s the way I have seen it in my experience. There is a lot more to it in this case but that’s information that we slowly discover during the course of the story.
The Lost Pearl features a full cast of characters, all of whom we get to know well enough to understand them and the events in the book. We have two separate casts for Honolulu and Sydney with me frantically flipping pages to keep reading until I can work out how they fit.
Madden has woven the bombing at Pearl Harbor into her narrative with some intense research and a feel for how those left behind had to pick up the pieces and carry on. I can’t remember what I learned about that day from any sources but if ever I think of it the images in my head are from the 2001 movie Pearl Harbor, and they were there as I read of the fateful morning in the book.
The night of her 16th birthday may have been imprinted on Kitty McGarrie’s mind and changed the course of her life, but so did the bombing of Pearl Harbor when she lost her older brother and her father changed the departure date for the female McGarrie’s.
Expertly woven we have a heartbreaking tale of first love lost, second chances, new beginnings and overwhelming guilt that stays with us through the years.
I am torn between wanting to steer far far away from spoilers and sharing some of the things that had major impacts on me in The Lost Pearl.
Catherine Bennett is recovering from her fall and heavily medicated when she lets slip a snippet of information about her past to Kit, who is a journalist and has her interest well and truly piqued. In the 75 years since the bombing of Pearl Harbor Catherine Bennet has shared very little of her memories. She doesn’t speak of her time in Hawaii or her family, and everyone learned not to ask.
One unusual comment is enough to make Kit curious, and eventually set her up for an ocean crossing journey to uncover the buried secrets of the past.
There were elements of the story that I did find a little predictable but there were also a few things that totally jumped out at me unexpectedly.
I loved this story, start to finish, it captured my heart and my imagination. I really felt for the struggles these characters had to face, and the lifelong effects they had. There was some pretty despicable behaviour that I would struggle to ever forgive, some uncanny coincidences that part of me wants to think it could never happen but there’s the other part just going ‘oh my what are the chances’. The heartbreak factor is high and you can’t help but feel for the characters enduring the tragedy.
A large element of the story is actually quite a horrific practice that went on for way too long, and I think the effects would still be being felt now in some families. It’s not the first book I have read that explored the practice but the more I read the more horrified I find myself. It is something that needs to be talked about because it’s certainly one way that I would hate for society to go backwards.
I could talk all night about The Lost Pearl, actually I almost have, but I think I have said enough. Go get a copy and read it for yourself, you won’t be disappointed. It’s a family saga spanning over 75 years that will break your heart, but then it will slowly help you piece it back together again. Another stunning read by Emily Madden that is definitely going to stay with me for some time. I finished the book late last night but still found myself thinking about the characters throughout the day.
I would have liked a little more at the end of the book. I think it all wrapped up a little quick, with all the build up to the final scenes I feel we would have benefited from a little more of what came next before jumping to the epilogue. The fact that we didn’t get that just means that I can write my own version in my head of what happened next.
Thank you Emily Madden and Harlequin Mira for a touching read that will continue to resonate in me.
The Lost Pearl is book #42 for the Australian Women Writers’ Challenge 2018.