Grant Buday’s new novel is an eccentric coming-of-age story that captures the late-Victorian fascination with ancient Egypt, auras, and the afterlife.
Smart, stubborn, and forthright Pearl Greyland-Smith is nine years old when we first meet her, in 1882. She lives with her widowed mother, Florence, in Victoria’s James Bay neighbourhood. Pearl’s father was a Hussar who died in Afghanistan, or that’s what Florence has always told Pearl. But when an Irish woman named Cassidy arrives at their door and addresses Florence as Sinead, Pearl begins to realize she may not know very much about her origins at all.
An avid reader with a rich inner life, as Pearl grows up she nonetheless confronts the scarcity of choices available to women. Yet while lacking in certain amenities, Pearl and Florence’s days are anything but dull, populated by characters easily at home in a Dickens novel: the earnest and enigmatic amateur scientist Charles Gloster, their bawdy, theosophist housemaid Carpy, inspector Osmo Beattie, and imperialist newspaper columnist Harry Hearne. Then a fateful encounter at a solstice fête throws Pearl’s whole future into question.
This delightful coming-of-age story, imbued with the Victorian fascination for auras and the afterlife, will appeal to readers of Patrick DeWitt and Eleanor Catton. Once again Grant Buday has turned distant West Coast history upside down and created a vivid world intimately relevant to us today.