Skylarking by Kate Mildenhall

Review published on July 5, 2017.

It’s easy to see why Kate Mildenhall was intrigued by this story – the romantic setting of a small, tight-knit community nestled around a windswept lighthouse, contrasted with the wide expanse of sea and sky, and the unusual, tragic event that took place there in the late 19th century. The facts of what happened are the subject of public records, newspaper and court reporting.

She gives us here her imagining of the main characters’ personalities and the relationships that might have existed between them, what sort of lives they led day by day. All this is very nicely done – strong, believable characters, some lovely descriptions of the wild landscape, the intricacies of lighthouse maintenance and the grinding drudgery of housekeeping, the overwhelming sense among the young that there is more to life, a big world out there that they are missing.

Great, as far as it went. For me, though, the plot was a little thin. Perhaps she didn’t want to introduce anything else that wasn’t based on reported fact. I’d have liked her to make much more of the shipwreck and rescue of the survivors, for example – a dramatic event that fell rather flat. I could have done without the epilogue altogether – a sketchy attempt to conjure the narrator’s future life without saying much or mentioning the other characters, and a fleeting reference to the Great War to come – it left me wanting more, or none at all.

The title, Skylarking, is an inspired choice. It evokes the exhilaration of the novel’s setting, flying high and free above the rocky shore, the word’s poignancy only becoming apparent towards the end. A debut novel and there is much to admire in her writing. I look forward to seeing what she tackles next.

Sue Broom 3/3

Skylarking by Kate Mildenhall
Legend Press 9781785079238 pbk Jul 2017

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