Charity boss draws on her real-life experience with a killer whale
Fiction Look into the Eye Jennifer Barrett Poolbeg, €29.99, pbk Available with free P&P on www.kennys.ie or by calling 091 709350
Jennifer Barrett is chief executive of Edmund Rice Development – a charity that supports development work in Africa, Latin America and India. So it's not surprising that the first novel from the Dublin writer reflects her travels.
In the icy waters of Norway, while photographing wild orcas, Jennifer had a fleeting moment of connection when she came eye to eye with a killer whale. So profoundly moving was her experience that it changed her life and inspired her to write this compelling novel.
Her protagonists are Richard and Melanie. He's a cocky, hard-nosed, hard-drinking journalist while she's quite unsure of herself, despite being financially independent with a successful career. They meet briefly but their conversation leads them both to reassess their lives.
Mel realises how dull her days have become, so she books herself on a whale-watching trip to Norway, where an encounter with a whale and advice from a wise, old American lady give her a new perspective on life.
Meanwhile, Richard's drinking is affecting his work and his concerned but understanding editor sends him on an expedition to join an anti-whaling Greenpeace ship in Antarctica, where the Japanese whaling fleet are using "research" as an excuse to butcher these beautiful creatures.
In the middle of a typhoon in the Pacific, Richard gets the news of his mother's death. Alone in his own private hell, he too has a light-bulb moment, surprising his editor with the sincerity of his subsequent articles and touching the hearts of many, including Mel.
Their whale encounters help Mel and Richard address their emotional baggage and start life anew. They are unwittingly assisted by a charismatic old priest, reminiscent of Spencer Tracy playing Father Edward J Flanagan in the old film Boys Town.
This is an exceptional debut novel, stirring, funny and eloquent. Barrett writes passionately about whales, intertwines her own experiences with those of her characters and brings a satisfactory conclusion to a story and a theme that is pertinent given that Greenpeace is back in the news at the moment.