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Review: Skylark by Jenny Pattrick

June 26, 2012

“Skylark” – by Jenny Pattrick

reviewed by Natalie

In this historical fiction novel, by an acclaimed New Zealand author, only the main characters are fictional.  The supporting characters, and many of the events that unfold, are all based on historical fact.

Young French girl, Lily Alouette, immigrates to the goldfields of Australia with her parents in 1853.  Misfortune befalls them however, and Lily is forced to leave and appeal for help to the one person she knows, Maria, a circus-performer. Therefore, fifteen-year-old Lily transforms into bareback artiste, Miss Tournear, and joins the circus as they travel to New Zealand.

There she meets groom, Jack Lacey, who is instantly smitten with her, and follows her when she leaves the circus to travel around the country with the circus-master’s wife, Mrs W.H. Foley, performing in the theatre as an actress and singer. Jack wants to make her his wife, and Lily promises to be so, when she turns 21.

Unfortunately, the 1855 Wellington earthquake introduces Lily to blackguard and pirate, Bully Hayes, who tries to kidnap her.  Later, when Lily joins the Buckingham Family Entertainers, the family conspire to separate Lily and Jack, leaving Jack available to marry Rosetta Buckingham – which he eventually does, believing that Lily is lost to him.

Fascinated with Lily, Bully Hayes has tracked her down again, and knowing that Jack is married, Lily marries Bully. Now in the goldfields of the South Island, her life takes a dark turn when Bully turns out to live up to his name.  When his actions cause the death of their baby, Lily is finally able to escape Bully and make her way to Jack, who is now a widower, farming in the Waitotara Valley.

However, Jack has fathered a child with Mattie, his Maori housekeeper, who loves him. Never one to give up, Lily proposes a scandalous plan that allows Mattie, Jack and herself to all live together. As the years pass, including a period when Jack is drawn into the Maori Wars, many children are born to the family and Lily becomes tutor to her talented performing children. However, this all ends in disaster, when her son Teddy’s performing hopes are dashed. The whole family is set against Lily and even Mattie is not sure if forgiveness is possible.

This novel was not exactly enjoyable, in that the storyline was not particularly pleasant in many places. But it was gripping and fascinating, and Jenny’s fluid and descriptive writing style makes it easy to envisage colonial New Zealand. In fact, this novel would make a superb mini-series!  Highly recommended to all fans of NZ stories, historical fiction and love stories.


From → New Books, Review

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