Books & Literature

Book Review: The Pearl Thief, by Fiona McIntosh

When Byzantine pearls are loaned to the British Museum in 1963, it sets off a frenzied hunt for a Nazi.

An enthralling tale of the monumental influence that others leave on a life.

Fiona McIntosh is the master of worldly mystery and utterly captivating storytelling and this is especially true of The Pearl Thief.

Severine Kassel is asked for her expertise in jewelled antiquities by the British Museum in 1963 and we are introduced to a bitter, yet hopeful post-war Europe as she sets about making discoveries both of a personal and historical nature. Exploring the atrocities of war and the kindness of strangers, McIntosh envelopes the reader in the bizarre nature of those left behind by the conflict and the way in which they interact and view the world. Heartbreaking and heart-warming simultaneously, McIntosh has once again brought forth a masterpiece of fiction.

McIntosh does not avoid the hard and delicate topics of what went on in World War Two. It is the harsh detailing of gruesome events combined with the determined way in which her characters explore this unravelling of their life that captures the reader’s attention.

Using literary devices such as point of view and structuring to tell Kassel’s story, the reader is brought from the present day (1963) to her beginning in 1939 as Kassel tells the story to her companion, Daniel Horowitz. This casual back-and-forth allows the reader to feel as though they are experiencing the story for the first time alongside Horowitz and opens a door into the reasons why Kassel is as she is. This is an in-depth study of the complexity of the human experience after life-altering conflict and betrayal, and it is captivating.

Some readers may find the breaks between storytelling mundane and rather irritating to the flow of historical information however, the breaks are where we see the most character development between the pages. The imagery used by McIntosh to break the tale up are rewarding and make the book feel as though there are natural breaks – one would not tell a story as complex as Kassel’s in one sitting, and nor would you read a book of that length in one go. It is refreshing and an intimate way to get to know the characters of Kassel’s life.

Lovers of McIntosh’s work will revel in her latest novel, as will lovers of vivid storytelling from that post-war period. Fresh and inviting, this is a story that will be difficult to put down once you get into it. An enthralling tale of the monumental influence that others leave on a life. I highly recommend this book is added to the summer reading list.

Reviewed by Zoe Butler
Twitter: @Zoe_Rambles

Distributed by: Penguin Random House Australia
Released: October 2018
RRP: $32.99 trade paperback (out now), $19.99 paperback (released April 2019)

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