Saphora is a wife, mother and grandmother, married to Bender whose “life was summed up by the activity of ambitions rather than the depth of his character”. Her plan to leave the philandering plastic surgeon is disrupted when he announces (literally as she is leaving) that he has been diagnosed with brain cancer. They move to their holiday home in Oriental on the Outer Banks of South Carolina, where the children and grandchildren come to visit. Their grandson, Eddie, stays with them, and through him they meet Jamie and her son, Tobias, also summer residents in the small town. Through a series of events, large and small, Saphora begins to rediscover their relationship as she cares for Bender.
The Pirate Queen focuses on the minutiae of detail in everyday life. While there are a couple of ‘big drama’ moments, the beauty of the writing is in the details and the everyday interactions. The story is not preachy (although Saphora does show a curiosity about or a desire for God that her husband does not share - she refers to him as someone whose “interest in religion was piqued only when he breathed a prayer” on the last hole of a round of golf). Yet it is Bender that develops the relationship with Rev John Mims, and who begins to read the Bible and ask questions.
As seems to be the trend for this genre, The Pirate Queenwas all written from Saphora’s point of view. It would have been nice to have a little variation, as although we clearly see Saphora’s responses to different situations, by the end of the novel I felt that my view of some situations might have been clouded by her preconceptions. As Bender was sometimes portrayed as the villain of the piece, it would have been good to have his point of view too.
The novel was not perfect. Character’s names often annoy me, and Bender (apparently his mother’s maiden name) is a name that has unappealing connotations that took me out of the story until I learned to read over it. At one point Saphora finds Bender’s journal and begins to read it, but this is put down, forgotten and not referred to again, which I found strange. I also object to the analogy of Saphora’s son as being ‘as emotional as a woman’. That phrase implies that emotions are somehow inferior to being unemotional, which is something I cannot agree with.
Overall, The Pirate Queen is an intriguing story with nuggets of wisdom interspersed throughout, in both the quotations at the beginning of each chapter, and in the story itself. The quotations are both pithy and relevant, and could be the subject of a whole discussion on their own. I suspect this is one of those books that can be read on many levels, with subsequent re-readings revealing different aspects of the story and the characters. Like many modern novels, this has a Reading Group guide at the end. The questions, like the book, will inspire a lot of discussion (and probably yet more questions…). I did enjoy The Pirate Queen, and will certainly look out for more titles by Patricia Hickman.
As I commented on how much I liked the quotations, I thought I would share a few of my favourites:
Normal day, let me be aware of the treasure you are… let me not pass you by in quest of some rare and perfect tomorrow. ( Mary Jean Irion)
You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it. (Maya Angelou)
Do you really want to look back on your life and see how wonderful it could have been had you not been afraid to live it? ( Caroline Myss)
Where was it written that a woman had to silently submit to a life that did not acknowledge her for her worth? ( Saphora)
She had heard it said that it was easier to live through someone else that to become complete yourself. (Saphora)
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