Best Book of the Week!
Perhaps I am harping on this subject, but yet again a distinctive authorial voice has made for an outstanding novel. In this case, the voice is that of Mary Davidson, the 18-year-old daughter of a whaler in 1908, Eden, Australia. Mary is relating the events of the year from a distance of 30 years later.
At that time, some of the whaling in Australia was done from shore, the whalers rowing out to chase the whales. In this activity, the whalers of Eden were assisted by, amazingly, a group of killer whales, who behaved more or less like really rough sheepdogs, herding and battering the other whales. In the novel, the leader of the killer whales, Tom, summons the whalers when whales are in the bay by smacking his tail loudly, and the whalers at times attempt to call the killer whales by smacking their oars.
The story begins with the arrival of a young man hoping for a seat in one of the boats. He is John Beck, reputed to be an ex-Methodist minister. Beck very soon seems to be courting Mary, although he is inconsistent in his attentions. Also, there are some indications that he has not been strictly truthful about his past.
Mary’s father George is short on men and had a very bad whaling season the year before, when they caught not a single whale. Although George “Fearless” Davidson (an actual historical person) is highly esteemed in the region, the financial situation is dire, and he must accept this totally inexperienced man onto his second boat.
The novel is peppered with rampaging whaling scenes and descriptions of the whaling life. It is written in a sprightly, witty, and engaging tone that reflects the personality of naive young Mary. Although it documents a disappearing way of life, it is wonderfully entertaining, and I loved every minute of it.