Julia Stuart has already established herself on the New York Times bestseller list for her previous novel, Balthazar Jones and the Tower of London Zoo, so I jumped at the chance to read The Last Pearl Fisher of Scotland, an engaging tale about the last descendant in a long line of traditional river-pearl fishers.
Brodie McBride’s ancestors have passed down their in-depth knowledge and skills religiously, carefully recording their findings for future generations to follow and learn from. Brodie inherited this wealth of information and, whilst his whole life has been spent pursuing this absorbing trade, times have become hard and his career and financial stability are about to hit troubled waters.
The river mussels producing the pearls are becoming scarce, not least for environmental reasons, and with increasing worries on how to make ends meet, his income is set to dry up. The strain is taking its toll on his home life too, as he and wife Elspeth have their young daughter Maggie to support, and Elspeth is forced to take menial jobs (a teacher by trade) just to feed them. Well aware of the strain it is putting on his family, Brodie decides to embark on a mission to fulfil a long-held dream, which he knows will banish all their woes.
Meanwhile, Maggie has her own cross to bear in life, but is a young and spirited girl who adores her father, and just wants to help make things right for her struggling parents. To this end she sets about hatching a plan to save her parent’s struggling marriage before they are all doomed. The plan is full of naïve promise, but not thought through, and once set in motion will turn around not only the lives of her parents but the whole community, with far reaching consequences.
The Last Pearl Fisher of Scotland is well paced and fresh. Stuart captures eloquently the everyday nuances that occur in close relationships, and her depiction of all the local characters that inhabit the story makes the novel a lively and compelling read. I particularly enjoyed the portrayals of the workers at the jam factory and their candid reactions to Brodie when he is in the face of adversity, as well as Maggie’s feisty character who maintains a fierce belief in being able to make things right and is remarkably resourceful, which I found very poignant.
Sparkling and imaginative, this book was entertaining, engrossing and a thoroughly addictive read.
The Last Pearl Fisher of Scotland was published by Vintage on 25 August 2016.