Author: Joy Dettman
Publisher: Mac Millan
Review By: Bronwen Scott
On a balmy midsummer’s evening in 1923, a young woman foreign, dishevelled and heavily pregnant is found unconscious just off the railway tracks in the tiny logging community of Woody Creek. The town midwife, Gertrude Foote, is roused from her bed when the woman is brought to her door. Try as she might, Gertrude is unable to save her, but the baby lives. Gertrude’s daughter Amber who has recently lost a son in childbirth and her husband Norman take the child in
The first in a trilogy, Pearl in a Cage explores the lives of Gertrude Foote and her family in the Victoria timber of town of Woody Creek during the 1920s and 30s. A practical and compassionate woman, Gertrude has made poor decisions in the past and continues to suffer the consequences.
When the town copper brings a critically ill young woman and her newborn baby girl to her home in the middle of the night, Gertrude does what she can to help. The mother dies, but the child survives. No one knows the identity of the woman; her baby is, essentially, an orphan. Soon after, Gertrude’s daughter and son-in-law lose their son at birth and they adopt the motherless infant, whom they name Jenny. These births and deaths are the catalyst for a story of jealousy, madness and brutal violence.
Pearl in a Cage is a reminder that small rural towns are not all Wandin Valley and Pearl Bay. Despite the open spaces, Woody Creek is a claustrophobic setting. In a small population, every individual has an impact on those around them. The book’s title refers not only to Jenny’s earrings, but also to her relationship to the town.
The interactions between characters play with reader sympathies. Even the most unpleasant major characters have redeeming features, whether an aspect of personality or the challenges faced, and the caged pearl Jenny has her flaws. No one is wholly good or bad, although some of the minor characters veer towards stereotypes.
As expected in a trilogy, some issues are resolved, but the major elements are part of a story arc that extends beyond the conclusion of this book. If read as a stand-alone, be aware that the ending will not be wrapped up neatly with everything in its place. The following books in the series are Thorn on the Rose and Moth to the Flame.