REVIEW: THE LAST PEARL BY LEAH FLEMING

Due to time restraints while I work on my own novel, reviews on this site will now comprise a book blurb and a short response. 

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I was blown away by Leah Fleming’s The Girl Under the Olive Tree, so it was a pleasure to sit down with her latest novel, The Last Pearl. Even more of a pleasure was reading the book. Here’s the blurb:

1879, York.Greta Costello must rely on her wits to survive. She finds refuge as a Saturday girl for an old jeweller, Saul Abrahams, and her eye for detail, her long fingers and appreciation of beauty persuade Saul to train her as a pearl stringer. This skill will lead her through hardship and pain towards a new life.

1879, Scotland. Jem Baillie knows the immense power of a perfect pearl. His father was a fisher on a tributary of the Tay river in Perthshire, Scotland, and together they found the rarest of pearls, a great white pearl they call Queenie. When this is stolen from them, Jem vows revenge.

Spanning generations and continents, tracing the rivers of Scotland and the Mississippi, The Last Pearl is a sweeping novel of desire and revenge, of family and freedom, and of one woman’s journey to open the shell she has built around herself to reveal the true beauty within.

Fleming expertly winds together the stories of Greta and Jem (and ‘Queenie’ the pearl), bringing them to a meeting point that has far-reaching consequences. As life takes Greta and Jem through hardship and loss, they cast off their naivety (the pearly sheen) and become harder and tougher, like the pearls they work with. Often when you read a book, you like them more as you get to know them, but interestingly, as Greta’s hard shell toughened up, she made some decisions that raised a few eyebrows. For a while she was almost less easy to like, but of course, as a reader, you have all the inside knowledge to understand that it’s part of her journey. Fleming built this character portrait up well. It made me reflect on how many times we change during our lifetimes, whether from necessity or willpower.

Also of interest to me was the historical snapshot of the pearling industry – fascinating stuff, and boy, what a rough life for those pearlers. While it didn’t quite knock The Girl Under the Olive Tree from its perch, Fleming has once more shown her breadth of storytelling talent, and delivered a character-driven read that is thoughtful, interesting and enjoyable.

Available from good bookstores. My copy was courtesy of Simon & Schuster.