Bookish Kate Gilbert and her slightly older, more worldly, best friend, Harriet Parker, are growing up during the last decades of the 19th century in a small and isolated lighthouse community on the coast of New South Wales, where Kate’s father is Chief Keeper. The author captures the beauty and the harshness of the landscape and the sea through Kate’s eyes. It is a close community whose inhabitants rely by necessity on each other. Kate loves the remote cape, but yearns for the sort of adventure she finds between the pages of her books. Harriet daydreams of suitors in Melbourne.
The intense friendship between the girls begins to shift as they both mature, and then, the arrival of a stranger, the fisherman Daniel McPhail, brings, in time-honoured tradition, the spectre of the outside world and unspoken desires. Kate finds herself drawn between jealousy and envy, especially when Harriet playfully kisses her. No good can come of it…
In an afterword, the author tells us that the true events on which the novel is based came to a violent climax in 1887, but there is very little in the text to actually ground the narrative to a particular era, until a clue to the time frame is given in the epilogue. I found that this sense of timelessness enhanced both the setting and the emotional trajectory of the characters.
I would thoroughly recommend this beautifully written, deeply emotional story.