Updated: Aug 24, 2019
Angela Savage came to the attention of the literary world in 2004 when she won the Victorian Premier's Award for an unpublished manuscript. That became Behind the Night Bazaar, published by Text, her first crime novel. She has now published three crime novels (including The Half Child and The Dying Beach), so with her latest offering, Angela has broken out of the crime genre! Angela has spent a number of years in South East Asia for work, so it is natural that she has given her novels Asian locations. With Mother of Pearl, Angela has written a compassionate novel about family, and what it means to mother, and to be a mother. They are not necessarily the same thing. Meg has spent years trying to conceive, and when natural methods failed, she and her husband went through course after course of (expensive, invasive and exhausting) IVF treatment - with no success. Her sister Anna has been working overseas for some time and raises the possibility of international surrogacy. This leads Meg and Anna to Thailand, and to the woman who offers herself as a surrogate, Mod. Issues of class and questions around exploitation are brought to the fore. The author could have over-simplified this novel, but she has given all characters many dimensions (and they're not all always likeable), and their personal challenges and outcomes are not predictable. There is fertile ground in international surrogacy to really hammer some points home, but with this book Angela perhaps gently asks us to pause and consider these issues. Where I had thought it would be a straight trajectory, the tension is successfully strung tight throughout. As an adoptee, I found this novel hit me harder than I expected, but I really loved this exploration of worlds that are foreign to me.