Thursday 6 July 2017

Book review : Skylarking - Kate Mildenhall

Skylarking by Kate Mildenhall is a haunting coming-of-age tale that will stay with you long after you have turned the final page. Set in the 1880's on a rugged and isolated Australian cape, it follows the story of Kate and Harriet, two best friends who have grown up as close as sisters as the daughters of the lighthouse keepers in their tiny community.

The girls spend many hours exploring the beaches and riding off for picnics on the coastal paths without a care in the world, until a new fisherman, McPhail, arrives in the village. He is not the cause but is certainly the catalyst for a turning point in the girls' relationship - teetering on the brink of womanhood, they are both infatuated with the hapless newcomer, or at least with the idealised version of him in their girlish daydreams, especially as he represents the only eligible male in the district, apart from their brothers or childhood friends who are as close as brothers. He represents everything that is exotic, different, grown-up and exciting so, as both girls fervently wish to catch his eye, this leads to jealousy, suspicion and secrecy - all new elements that have never tarnished their relationship before.

McPhail doesn't seem overly interested in either of them. Kate is sure that he is interested in Harriet, and is also convinced that her friend is fanning his desire with secret trysts, but how much of that is true and how much is purely a case of the green-eyed monster is anyone's guess. This muddying of the waters is deliberate, as the reader is left to make what they will of the tragic events that unfold.

It's a poignant tale of life in an isolated community, coming of age and friendships turning sour, made all the more heart-wrenching by the fact that it is a fictionalised version of a real event. The author has imagined what really went on between the girls but also leaves some scope for the reader to add their own interpretation. Her research into women's lives at the time, as well as life as a lighthouse keeper, provides authentic details that make it all incredibly realistic and believable, adding even greater impact to the dramatic storyline. References to young women being sent off to the cities to find a suitor and the (now shocking) attitudes to Aboriginal people offer a glimpse into life at the time, which will strike a chord with lovers of historical fiction.

It's a fairly short read (just over 200 pages) but it packs a real punch, with characters and a dramatic plot twist that are totally unforgettable.

star rating : 4.5/5
  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Legend Press (3 July 2017)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1785079239
  • ISBN-13: 978-1785079238
  • Product Dimensions: 19.8 x 1.7 x 13.1 cm

Disclosure : I received a review copy of the book.


  1. I love to relax with a book when my three children ate settled down in bed for the night, this sounds just up my street xxx

  2. Just won a copy on Facebook with Legend Press. Looking forward to read it.


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