Let me be quite honest, I am a fan of Charlotte Grimshaw’s books, and have read all but the previous one, Soon. The things that attract me most are her description and evocation of place. Pictures come very clearly to mind, and in this novel tarmac oozes that particular heat that only emerges during a long hot summer that takes weeks to build. I found Starlight Peninsula a delight to read on a number of levels.
I enjoyed the way that the plot kept things moving along at a good pace. There was no lag or deviation off on a tangent. This was mostly down to the character of the main protagonist, Eloise Hay. A woman for whom there seemed to be an increasing number of misfortunes but who was not going to let these ruin her life. Instead, she was eventually going to fight back, with the help of much wine, gin and several interesting characters. She prides herself on being observant, but is losing her mojo, unsettled by events around her.
The location and the setting, in and around Auckland, and in particular the Peninsula of the title were both characters and settings. The Peninsula at times had a settling and calming influence on the story, beautiful sunsets and ever changing tides, a retreat for Eloise and mostly a place of safety. By rippling this with an undercurrent of danger, Grimshaw subtly takes us deep into Eloise’s psyche and psychosis.
The other characters in the book were a fine selection. Some had been recycled from the previous books including The Night Book and Soon. Prime Minister David Hallwright, his wife Roza, and their friends the Lamptons, who had adopted Roza Hallwright’s daughter, are all familiar, although not central to this story. Then there is the barely concealed parody of Kim Dotcom, cast as an oversize German in odd black clothing, who is being hunted by the government so he can be extradited to America for various cyber-downloading crimes. Eloise seems to trust him and enlists his cyber skills to reach her final understanding of events.
I particularly liked one of the minor characters, Eloise’s German psychotherapist, Klaudia, plagued by a clientele of bores and nutters. During her first session Eloise spots a rat outside in the garden, but carries on talking about herself. Then on subsequent visits she agonises about mentioning the rat. Having not mentioned it the first time, to raise it later might be seen as avoidance of something more important.
There were some lovely touches of humour and parody, and I laughed out loud as Eloise asks some obvious question or battles with quirky friends and difficult family at the same time as reading Chekhov’s story The Black Monk, where the monk is visible only to Kovrin who remains convinced of his reality. I hope, like some of the other characters, that Eloise will have a life longer than one book, I would like to meet her again.