Young Australian actress Samantha Lindsay, fresh from her success on the London stage, is thrilled when she lands the lead role in the latest Hollywood war epic to be filmed in the dramatic South Pacific islands of Vanuatu. It’s the role of a lifetime.
In another era, Jane Thackeray travels from her home in England to the far distant islands of the New Hebrides with her husband, a Presbyterian missionary. Ensnared in the turmoil of war in the South Pacific, Jane witnesses the devastating effect human conflict has upon an innocent race of people, and her life becomes entwined in a maelstrom of love, hate, sacrifice and revenge.
On location in Vanuatu, Samantha plays a character based on the life of ‘Mamma Tack’, a World War II heroine who was invaluable to both the US forces and the New Hebredian natives. Uncanny parallels between history and fiction emerge and Sam begins a quest for the truth.
When this book arrived I was very excited to see that it was written by Judy Nunn. I grew up watching both Neighbours and Home and Away and Judy Nunn’s portrayal of Ailsa Stewart in the latter makes her feel like part of the furniture of my tv youth. I didn’t know before receiving this book that she was also an author so I couldn’t wait to get reading.
I did find it a little hard to get into Pacific. It opens with a prologue that takes place during the Dunkirk evacuation and then with the start of Book One jumps to the present day and shifts its focus to actress Samantha Lindsay. Within a chapter it then jumps back in her timeline, providing some background to her story. After shifting back into the present day for Samantha the reader is once more transported back to the pre-war years introducing yet more characters including Jane who was to become a key character in the novel. I found all of this jumping around in two different timelines quite difficult to get on with, the moves weren’t seamless and I felt that just as I started to settle into the book it changed again.
Thankfully when Book Two starts (in addition to a prologue and epilogue the novel is divided into three books) everything starts to settle down. The pre-war and war time plots turn out to be part of the same story focussing on Jane’s story set in the New Hebrides and Samantha’s story remains in the present day. Both plots then move along well, though at times the move between plots feels quite annoying – I found particularly with Jane’s story I wanted to keep reading about it and then I was pulled back to Sam’s story. I became glad as the book progressed and more time was spent on Jane’s story than Sam’s.
As the blurb suggests the parallels between Jane’s story and the film Sam is starring in mean that the two plots do end up being tied together to a certain extent by the end of the book. I did spend a lot of time wishing that Nunn had chosen to tell Jane’s story only, for a long time it didn’t feel that Sam’s story added anything to the book. By the end I could understand why Sam’s story was there, it was used well by Nunn. I still feel however that I would have preferred it if the book had been solely about Jane and her life in the New Hebrides – this was a far more interesting story and could have been expanded to stand alone in my opinion.
I adored the character of Jane, the way she developed over the course of the book from a relatively gentle and mild girl into a strong and confidant woman was wonderful. She’s painted as a clearly loved character and I had no difficulties in believing this of her. The characters she was surrounded by were also brilliant to read, including some delightfully written children. I found myself falling for Wolf Baker, he was certainly a character I’d have loved to read more about.
The characters in Sam’s side of the story were perhaps a little less loveable though this may be just because I didn’t enjoy that part of the book quite so much. I think they were all well created characters, and they were all very believable. I just didn’t take to them quite so much.
Whilst I had some issues with the book, once I got into it I did really enjoy reading it. I would certainly be willing to read more by Judy Nunn because when this book was good it was downright brilliant.
Pacific is published in paperback by Piatkus in the UK from today priced £7.99. Whilst I was provided with a review copy of the book all of the opinions expressed are my own.