Skylark by Jenny Pattrick review

by Louise O'Brien / 14 July, 2012
Jenny Pattrick – her name always accompanied by the tag “best-selling author of <em>The Denniston Rose</em>“– has written another crowd pleaser for those many loyal fans, says Louise O'Brien.
Jenny Pattrick – her name always accompanied by the tag “best-selling author of The Denniston Rose“– has written another crowd pleaser for those many loyal fans who have put each of her six novels at the top of the best seller lists. Skylark is a romping tale set in the colourful world of colonial New Zealand’s theatres and circuses, combining a fictional family with a cast of historical figures, although all the characters are distinctly larger than life.

Lacking the strong sense of place of Pattrick’s earlier work, Skylark follows the vivacious flibbertigibbet Lily Alouette, an artiste whose love of performing drives her peripatetic life in the goldfields and embryonic centres of 19th-century Australia and New Zealand. Lily’s dramatics – on and off stage – inspire adoration and exasperation in equal measure, captivating both charismatic blackguard Bully Hayes and faithful but colourless Jack Lacey. All the world is Lily’s stage and her every deed an act, not ever quite real, and so she is reduced to a persona who is less important to the novel than is the theatrical context that saturates and energises it.

Subtitled “An entertainment”, with a programme instead of a table of contents, Skylark mimics a Victorian melodrama, comprising a series of dramatic scenes featuring extreme emotion, high tragedy, dastardly villains and heroines a-flutter, interrupted by a musical interlude. The story’s structure is Victorian, too: an interweaving of three manuscripts, bracketed not only by an archivist’s commentary, but also by the opinions of a shadowy editor. That’s a lot of direction for the reader, who is encouraged to boo and hiss, cheer and applaud, in the best theatrical tradition. Skylark puts on a good show and is fast-moving and flamboyant, but it flourishes more glamour than depth.

SKYLARK, by Jenny Pattrick (Black Swan, $37.99).

Louise O’Brien is a Wellington reviewer.

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