Paying Davy Jones

Written by Millie Vigor
Review by Cassandra Clark

This is one of the best family stories I have read this year.  Set in the Shetland Isles in the 1970s when the oil boom is just beginning to make deep changes to the old ways, it invests the life of one family and their need to encompass the new and threatening with depth and authentic drama.

Vigor plunges straight into the story from the first sentence, and her focus on the twists and turns of the plot never slackens. It is an astonishing feat to render the daily existence of a middling family with such tension. This stems from the clarity of Vigor’s language and her expressive use of dialogue. She has such a good ear for the way people speak that her characters spring to life from their first utterance.  With no need for slabs of heavy-handed back story, the characters themselves are replete with the sense of their own existence. One small caveat is the cover blurb about ‘oil-related’ matters, and I wonder if this might put some readers off.  This is not a technical treatise on the oil industry, far from it.  It is a passionate look at a family facing profound change.

The heroine in all senses is Catherine Williams, a remarkable and inspiring woman. With two sons about to leave home, and a husband facing retirement, she fights their corner with dignity, wisdom and tenacity.  The scene with a snobbish newcomer who looks down on one of Catherine’s sons as a chancer and a mere ‘island boy’ is pitch-perfect.  Vigo maintains this level throughout.

Hale are bringing out some beautifully presented books these days, and this is a pleasure to handle.  It does justice to an excellent story.