Book review: Pearl by Deirdre Purcell

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They say you should never go back.

But sometimes the past, however painful a place it might be, can help to make sense of the present and shape the future.

Deirdre Purcell has become one of Ireland’s best authors of women’s fiction - her clever and beautifully written novels combine romance with important social and political issues.

Pearl is her latest gem; an epic love story that moves from Ireland’s war for independence to the unrest of the 1970s and is driven by a haunting tragedy.

The keys to her success are intelligent plotting, feminine insight, well-drawn characters and a fluent, evocative writing style that raises her novels above the category of contemporary chick-lit.

In 1920s rural Ireland, Pearl Somers lives happily with her parents, her sisters Opal and Ruby and her younger brother Willie in the gate lodge of Kilnashone Castle where her father is chauffeur to Lord and Lady Areton.

One dreadful night in April 1923 the lives of the Somers family, as well as their aristocratic employers, are changed forever by a series of dramatic events.

Over 40 years later, Pearl shares a home with her sister Opal in a seaside suburb. Pearl has fulfilled her ambition to become a successful author after years of working in a quayside cafe and the widowed Opal has achieved her dream of wealth.

But there is one story Pearl has never told – until her young cousin Catherine, a frequent visitor to their house, confesses a secret of her own and by doing so opens a door to Pearl’s past, one she thought had been firmly sealed forever.

When Catherine discovers Pearl’s heartbreaking story of a fleeting but doomed love affair, she determines to do her best to reconcile past and present.

But is it too late for Pearl to find her own happy ending?

Purcell uses the voices of the three women – as children, young women and older women – to guide us through 40 years of landmark events which have made them what they are today.

A touching tale told with genuine warmth and understanding.

(Headline Review, paperback, £7.99)