Review: The Oyster Catcher by Jo Thomas (4/5)

Friday 24 October 2014
Dooleybridge, County Galway. Population: 482 (or thereabouts). The last place Fiona Clutterbuck expects to end up, alone, on her wedding night.

But after the words 'I do' have barely left her mouth, that's exactly where she is - with only her sequined shoes and a crashed camper van for company.

One thing is certain: Fi can't go back. So when the opportunity arises to work for Sean Thornton, the local oyster farmer, she jumps at the chance. Now Fi must navigate suspicious locals, jealous rivals and a wild, unpredictable boss if she's to find a new life, and love, on the Irish coast. And nothing - not even a chronic fear of water - is going to hold her back.

Join Fi on her romantic, unpredictable adventure as she learns the rules of the ocean - and picks up a few pearls of Irish wisdom along the way...

Every so often a book comes along that is perfect for the mood you are in. I really needed a pick me up, and this was the book that provided it. It had one of the more enjoyable openings to a book I've read in a while, and really sets the scene for the mayhem that is about to ensue. With over 600 4 and 5* ratings I had a fair idea this book would be good, it was brilliant. I started the book early in the evening, and was still reading in the early hours.

Fiona Clutterbuck (what a name) arrives in the village of Dooleybridge, County Galway, when she is left abandoned at the altar. Running away is what Fiona does best, and she couldn't have picked a more perfect place to lie low, especially as she arrives in the village in a stolen camper van, intended to be used for her honeymoon. Vivid descriptions bring the small village to life, and all the nuances of the people that inhabit these places are present in the characters Jo introduces us to, and not all of them are particularly likeable. I really found myself completely absorbed in the book, forgetting the world around me and almost becoming a part of the story myself. It is escapism at its best. The book has just the right amount of humour, and also the best type of humour, Irish.

Fiona finds herself in the local pub, on the look out for a job on the farm of local man Sean Thornton. A formidable character when we first meet him, it's glaringly obvious where the story is going to go yet for me books like this often do have a sense of predictability about them but that's what makes them such fun reads. You have an idea of where the story is going to go, and it's a lot of fun reading it to see if you are right. That said Jo does throw plenty of hurdles and obstacles in the way of our characters, the course of true love never did run smooth, after all. If a book is predictable then I want it to be realistic and believable, and the love story here was both of those things. It's a heartwarming read with a real feel good factor.

The job is on an oyster farm and is essentially in the middle of nowhere. Not unsurprisingly Fi English (as she introduces herself to Sean) is a bit wary and goes to bed on the first night afraid to sleep, and wondering just what she's got herself into. Given the blurb is quite revelatory it is really hard to talk about the story further than that, safe to say that whilst it does have all the hallmarks of your typical chick lit novel, it is very different to what's out there at the minute, focusing as it does on oyster farming, going into a lot of detail you learn a lot about something that (for me at least) I've never had even the remotest interest in. That element of the story really makes it stand out from other books in this genre. You might wonder how an author could create conflict surrounding oyster farming, well, Jo does and it soon becomes clear that being an oyster farmer is really difficult. Almost educational in parts, it's done subtlety and you come away like you've learnt something but not like you've been taught something if that makes sense.

Written mostly in the first person we really get to know the character of Fi, and I ended up liking her a lot, yet wanting to shake some sense into her at times. She arrives in the village almost like a lost soul, and blossoms throughout the novel. The character of Sean is not dissimilar to a lot of male characters in chick lit, a little bit moody and brash in the beginning, we see a different side to him as the book goes on and as said earlier, a predictable but still bumpy ride takes us to a lovely, and fitting conclusion making this book the perfect read this Autumn and one that comes highly recommended by me.

I predict that the future is very bright for Jo Thomas, and I'm very excited to see what she comes up with next. Luckily I have the short story The Chestnut Tree ready to read, and will be doing so ASAP. With a fabulous cover to go alongside a brilliant story, I'm sure this book will be jumping into a lot of shopping trolleys once it's released in paperback. Please do not hesitate to pick up this book, you won't regret it.

Thanks to Headline for the review copy via bookbridgr.

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