Black Inked Pearl by Ruth Finnegan

‘Just an ordinary girl.  In a magical world.’

Meet Kate.  An Irish girl who rejects her lover in a moment of panic, and then spends her life seeking him.  While Kate’s story might be viewed as relatively straightforward, Ruth Finnegan’s crafting of it is not.  Yes, it is a romance, but it isn’t just about a romance between two people.  What became clear to me as I followed Kate’s journey was how powerful language is, how important words are and how our interpretations are coloured by our own experiences.

It took me a while to find my own rhythm in this story.   My usual fast reading speed was a hindrance.  I had to slow my reading speed, I had to read aloud.  And even then, I am certain I have missed some of the possible aspects of the story.  Possible?  Well, yes.  I chose not to explore every one of the literary allusions (and I suspect I missed many).  Literary allusions often take me into alternate worlds and in this case, I’d have left Kate’s journey and embarked on one of my own.  I may reread this book at some stage, and if I do I’ll permit myself some of those side journeys.  Staying with Kate was claustrophobic at times.  I wanted different points of reference, but I didn’t need them.  I particularly loved the beetle (you’ll need to read it for yourself).

I kept reading (aloud) through prose and verse, smiling sympathetically at Kate’s inability with numbers, wondering about some of the puzzles (not just numerical ones) she needed to solve.

Kate’s journey is a slow one, made slower by my need to map my own way through it. I stopped a couple of times, thought of Dante’s ‘Inferno’ and of Bunyan’s ‘The Pilgrim’s Progress’ amongst others, and kept reading.  I wanted to understand Kate’s journey.  I wanted Kate to triumph and I wanted the beetle to succeed.

This was not (for me) an easy read, but it was ultimately a rewarding one.

‘Ask what in this life of hers, or ours, is dream and what reality?  What falsehood, what the truth?  Who can tell?’

Note: My thanks to Ruth Finnegan for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

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