Read Like A Feminist Bookclub: Skylarking, Kate Mildenhall

In the lead up to our February Read Like a Feminist Book Club, we’ve put together a bit of a resource pack, to help you explore Skylarking by Kate Mildenhall ahead of the discussion.

If you haven’t been able to read the book – never fear! This post has links to a bunch of links you can explore, and still engage with the discussion – it’ll just help you be extra informed when you finally do read the book.

What is Skylarking about?

(Description from Black Inc)

“Kate and Harriet are best friends, growing up together on an isolated Australian cape in the 1880s. As daughters of the lighthouse keepers, the two girls share everything, until a fisherman, McPhail, arrives in their small community. When Kate witnesses the desire that flares between him and Harriet, she is torn by her feelings of envy and longing. But one moment in McPhail’s hut will change the course of their lives forever.

Inspired by a true story, Skylarking is a stunning debut novel about friendship, love and loss, one that questions what it is to remember and how tempting it can be to forget.”

Skylarking is evocative and full of subtle threads of narrative that tease at issues around gender identity and sexuality that are tangled in Harriet and Kate’s friendship, and their fascination with McPhail. You also probably won’t see the ending coming.

First impressions…

Our panelists, Zoya Patel, Yen Eriksen and Shu-Ling Chua will be discussing the book live at the Book Club event – here they share their first impressions.

Zoya: I couldn’t stop reading Skylarking when I first picked it up – there were so many suggestions of drama and romance strewn throughout the book, as well as hints towards something darker, I was gripped with suspense! But I also think that, beyond being a page-turner, the book offers a unique, if imagined, perspective into the lives of women in that era, and Kate’s yearning for adventure and freedom are very relate-able. 

Yen: Skylarking is a rich exploration of speculative fiction into the lives of women and families living in a small Australian cape and lighthouse station in the 1800s. The central figures are well developed and their close connection is a compelling narrative. Unfortunately I found the ending a bit disappointing though I suppose unavoidable as it’s based on a true story. So I’m certainly keen to hear what our readers think about this one!

Shu-Ling: Skylarking is a quietly unsettling portrait of the price we pay for friendship, love and growing up. Though fascinatingly complex, what touched me most was not Kate and Harriet’s friendship but Kate’s longing for a different life, a life of adventure, love and importantly, choice. I identified with her desire for something more, and was reminded of how I wanted to escape the ‘burbs, to be more than ‘that smart Asian girl’. Growing up, to me, means coming to terms with one’s limitations (and internal conflict); the world expands and shrinks, simultaneously.

Things to discuss

At Read Like a Feminist Book Club, we want to talk about lots of things, but some key points of interest are:

  • What is the true nature of Harriet and McPhail’s relationship, and why does it spark such torment in Kate?
  • What purpose does the secondary narrative about the local Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander community have in the book?
  • What role to historical novels have in giving a voice to women of the time, who had very few actual avenues for expression? 

Stuff you should read/watch/listen to:

Feminartsy’s Read Like a Feminist Book Club will be taking place on Saturday 4 February, at 2pm at Smith’s Alternative in Civic, Canberra.

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