Book Review: Skylarking by Kate Mildenhall

Kate Mildenhall’s debut novel is based on a true story, a tragedy that occurred on Cape St George, New South Wales, Australia, in the late 1880s.

Harriet and Kate are lighthouse keepers’ daughters. Inseparable, they share their daily lives and their inner most secrets. Harriet, the elder by two years, looks forward to a future which involves marriage and motherhood, while Kate yearns for adventures beyond the restrictive world of the tiny community in which they live. Their friendship is tested when McPhail, a fisherman, takes up residence in a hut on the beach, becoming the romantic focus of the two girls.

Life on the Cape is idyllic when the girls are younger.

They take pleasure in their friendship and the simplicity of their lives, but  adolescence sees the nature of the friendship change. They begin to keep secrets from one another. McPhail is one of the reasons and another is that Harriet experiences life beyond the Cape.

The prologue hints at a life changing moment and the story, told from Kate’s point of view, slowly moves through childhood and adolescence towards it, exposing Kate’s feelings and insecurities along the way.  

My thoughts had gone off in other directions, so I was unprepared for the tragic event that took place. One moment of skylarking is the catalyst by which Kate’s wish to leave the Cape is granted. While devastated by what happened, Kate is happy to be leaving at last. Even then she cannot escape more sorrow in her life, but it is not until she is much older that she comes to terms with her actions on that fateful day and realises the value of what she has lost.

Skylarking is a sad story. A sensitive portrayal of a friendship cut short by a tragedy so incongruous with the beautiful and peaceful setting of the Cape that it lingers in your mind long after the final word is read.

I enjoyed Kate Mildenhall's debut novel and look forward to reading more from this author.


  1. This sounds well written but rather too sad.

    1. You're right on both counts, Terra. I hope her next novel will be more uplifting.

  2. Sounds rather good, especially since I know nothing about 19th Century Australia!