Book Review: Angela Savage’s Mother of Pearl.

Reviewed by Angela Wauchop

“Meg blinked back tears of frustration. This was not a conversation she wanted to have. She grasped her skirt in tight fists and took a deep breath. […] Meg’s lower lip quivered with suppressed anger. ‘I’ve never given up, Anna. All I’ve done is tame the grief. I’ve never, ever given up hope.’”

Sometimes you will pick up a book and upon opening it, realise that it exquisitely dovetails with your current mood or school of thought. I suppose it’s like when you learn a new word and then suddenly you see that word everywhere, hear it on TV, read it in headlines. Angela Savage’s Mother of Pearl dovetailed with me, but not in the way you might think. The book deals with many themes, surrogacy, poverty, family responsibilities and faith. But one important message it brought me was that of making a difference—even if it is just to one person—a friend, a family member or a total stranger.

Angela Savage is a Melbourne-based award-winning author and in her latest novel, she presents to us a story that begins in Thailand. With vivid descriptions, the author establishes a strong sense of place from the humid streets of regional Thailand to the familiar bustle of Melbourne. Set between 1998 and 2008, Mother of Pearl is an honest and absorbing glimpse into the lives of its gritty yet gentle characters. Mod is a young single mother in Thailand. Australian sisters Anna and Meg have a complicated relationship. It gets even trickier when the idea of an overseas surrogate mother for Meg comes to light and Anna becomes guide, mediator and translator for their family’s rocky journey ahead.

The book however is not just about the emotional and complicated process of overseas surrogacy. It is about the imperfection of life and its characters, situation, and even the book’s imperfect settings. The story has many backdrops which range from the deadly bushfires in Victoria to the aftermath of war, poverty, and the AIDS epidemic in Cambodia at the turn of the century. What I love most about this immaculately written and absorbing story is how it presents expectations against reality, hope alongside bitter disappointment, and fantasy hand-in-hand with the cold hard facts of life.

Mother of Pearl’s portrayal of family obligations, old resentments and unspoken regrets is gritty and unembellished. Savage excels in her subtle portrayal of real life situations and lovable, flawed, wonderful and imperfect people, situations and truths. The book instils a sense of hope alongside the presence of desperate and emotional need, but mostly brings home the idea that to make things better, we don’t need to make them perfect. We just need to take action, for one person, even just once, whether in a small way or in one almighty gesture.

 “‘This isn’t about luck. It’s about gambling.’

‘I used to believe everything happened for a reason,’ Meg said. ‘If you were a good person, good things happened to you. If you were bad, you’d be punished[…] Shit happens, yes. But good things happen, too. You can’t rule out hope.’

Anna touched her fingertips to the water, making the black fish swim to the surface. ‘Nietzsche called hope the worst of all evils because it only prolongs our torment.’”




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