Almost 10-year-old Julia is uprooted from Cornwall to a lighthouse in the Shetlands. Once there she establishes a relationship with Kin, a lone bullied boy her own age. Her father repairs the lighthouse and her equally adoring mother continues with her work as a gifted marine biologist. So far, so agreeable, but Hargrave wants to do more than merely provide a pleasantly escapist story. Julia gradually becomes aware that her mother’s alarmingly ‘dazzlebright’ voice and general over-the top behaviour is entering into dangerous bi-polar territory. Hostile local children also make her friendship with Kin, who has Indiana heritage, increasingly fraught. And her mother’s search for the very special Greenland shark, that can live up to four hundred years, is getting progressively unhinged.
This story is narrated as if by Julia herself and reads well. The powerful half-abstract black and white illustration by Hargrave’s artist husband working alongside his wife for the first time add to the generally unsettling effect, coming to a climax towards the end with pictures at one stage outnumbering text. Yet this also happens at the weakest part of an otherwise expertly told story, with the author going for unconvincing melodrama at sea better suited to the end of an Enid Byton adventure story than to anything closer to the real life. While Moby Dick always demands the brooding presence of the whale, Hargrave could easily have left the Greenland Shark behind and simply concentrated on what she is so good at here and in her previous novels: telling a story where all the characters ring true while coping with some of the inevitable ups and downs experienced by contemporary parents and children on their mutual journey together.