Skylarking By Kate Mildenhall: Book Review & Summary

Skylarking By Kate Mildenhall — Reviews, Discussion, Bookclubs, Lists

Skylarking by Kate Mildenhall — Reviews, Discussion, Bookclubs, Lists

Skylarking is a novel by Kate Mildenhall that tells the story of two young girls, Kate and Harriet, growing up in a remote Australian coastal town in the late 1800s. The girls are best friends and spend their days swimming, exploring, and dreaming of their futures. But as they grow older, their friendship is tested by jealousy, secrets, and the oppressive gender norms of their time.

Main Themes and Ideas

One of the main themes of Skylarking is the intensity and complexity of female friendship. Kate and Harriet are deeply connected, but their relationship is also marked by tension, competition, and power struggles. Mildenhall does a nuanced job of portraying the ways in which friendships between young girls can be both incredibly supportive and incredibly damaging.

Another important theme is the role of gender in shaping the lives of the characters. Kate and Harriet are both constrained by the narrow expectations placed on women in their society. Kate longs for adventure and independence, but feels trapped by the expectation that she will marry and have children. Harriet, who is more conventionally feminine, is still frustrated by the limited options available to her.

Finally, the book explores the theme of loss and grief. Without giving too much away, it’s clear from early on that the story doesn’t end happily. Mildenhall does a great job of depicting the raw, emotional pain of losing someone you love, and the perspectives and reactions of different characters to this event are complex and believable.

Critical Evaluation

Overall, I thought that Skylarking was a well-written and engaging novel. Although the plot isn’t particularly action-packed, the characters are beautifully realized, and the setting is vividly described. The tension between Kate and Harriet is palpable from early on, and I was invested in their relationship and their fates throughout the book.

One thing that stood out to me about the writing style was how effectively Mildenhall conveyed a sense of nostalgia and longing for a simpler time. There’s a real sense of yearning for the childhood years when the girls were carefree and innocent. However, the book also doesn’t shy away from the harsh realities of life at that time, and the limitations placed on the characters by their gender and social class.

If I had any criticisms of the book, it would be that some parts felt a bit slow or repetitive. There were a few sections where I found myself wanting the story to move along a bit faster. However, this is a relatively minor complaint in the scheme of things.

Strengths and Weaknesses

One of the book’s biggest strengths is its exploration of the complexity of female friendship. Mildenhall doesn’t shy away from the darker, more difficult aspects of these relationships, and the portrayal of Kate and Harriet’s bond is one of the book’s most memorable features. Additionally, the writing style is polished and emotive, which makes for a pleasurable reading experience.

However, there are a few weaknesses to the book as well. As I mentioned earlier, some parts of the story dragged a bit, and there were plot points that felt a bit contrived or predictable. Additionally, some readers might find the ending unsatisfying or abrupt, although I thought it worked well in the context of the story.

How It Compares to Other Works in the Genre

Skylarking has a lot in common with other coming-of-age novels that explore female friendship and the constraints placed on women in historical societies. Fans of authors like Jane Austen, Louisa May Alcott, or L.M. Montgomery would likely enjoy this book. However, I also think that the book has a distinctively Australian flavor that sets it apart from other books in this genre. The setting and descriptions of the landscape are particularly memorable.

Overall Impression and Recommendation

Overall, Skylarking is a beautifully written and emotionally resonant novel. It’s not a fast-paced thriller or a sweeping epic, but it’s a thoughtful and nuanced exploration of friendship, gender, and the pain of growing up. I would definitely recommend it to readers who enjoy historical fiction, coming-of-age stories, or realistic portrayals of female friendships.


What age group is this book appropriate for?

The book is targeted at adult readers, but it would likely be appropriate for mature older teenagers as well.

Is there any content in the book that might be triggering?

There is a significant event toward the end of the book that is quite sad and might be upsetting for some readers. Additionally, there are some discussions of sex and violence throughout the book, although nothing too graphic or explicit.

Will I enjoy this book if I don’t typically read historical fiction?

It’s hard to say for sure, but I think that the book’s themes and characters are universal enough that readers who don’t typically read historical fiction would still enjoy it. That said, if you really dislike slow-paced novels or stories set in a specific time period, this book might not be for you.

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