‘Everything in the ocean matters….’
Anyone who knows me, knows that I love a good book. I work in publishing so I’m surrounded by them every day and I buy far too many – my bookcases are literally overflowing with the things.
I’ve read hundreds of books in my life so far but I’m struggling to remember a novel that has focused on marine conservation, particularly the plight of a fish so many people hate.
The Shark Club by Ann Kidd Taylor has that and so much more.
It follows Maeve, a marine biologist known as the ‘shark whisperer’. As a child, she was bitten by a lemon shark but rather than becoming scared of them, she develops a deep love and understanding of the creature.
We join Maeve as she returns to her childhood home in Florida and the Hotel of the Muses; a literary themed hotel run by her Grandmother. She reconnects with her twin Robin, and finds herself thrown back into her old life – spending days at the Conservancy where she works and finally running into her childhood sweetheart and cheating ex-fiance Daniel. But Daniel now comes with 6-year-old Hazel – the result of a fling he had while engaged to Maeve; and which broke her heart.
Desperately trying to work out whether she still loves Daniel or whether her heart lies with her dive partner Nicholas, Maeve finds herself forming a ‘Shark Club’ with Hazel – an adventurous six-year-old who is struggling to come to terms with her mother’s recent death. But Maeve has another problem. A shark-finning operation has moved into the area killing hundreds of the sharks she’s spent her life monitoring. And as it’s a small island, the chances are, she knows who’s involved…
I felt like I was accompanying Maeve on a journey to discover herself. Her failed engagement with Daniel consumed years of her life – with nights spent wondering what might have been. So when she returns, it’s natural that all those feelings swim back to the surface. But Maeve has to determine what her feelings for Daniel really are. Does she still love him, and can she see a future with him and Hazel? Or does she love what they used to have – is she just hoping to rekindle a love which is already lost?
Nicholas confuses things for her. He’s the dive partner she’s just worked alongside for months. He visits the island a few times – once declaring his love for her, and secondly becoming a useful ally and supporter when she discovers a finned shark. He shares her passions and he supports her whether or not he agrees with her actions. No wonder she’s confused…
While the romance element does take up a majority of the plot, the highlights for me were the growing bond between Maeve and Hazel and the light shone on shark finning.
Hazel’s character is immediately lovable. Trying to come to terms with her mother’s fairly recent death, Hazel has thrown herself into the world around her. Passionate about prehistoric marine creatures, and harbouring a love of the ocean, Hazel has a thirst for knowledge which Maeve helps quench. Intrigued by Maeve’s shark attack, and her job, the duo set up ‘Shark Club’ and what follows is one woman’s attempt to show a child that although sharks are scary, they’re just as important as the other creatures in the sea.
‘Sharks matter. Everything swimming in the oceans matters. Dolphins, stingrays, the tiniest sea horses, and the smallest crabs.’
But Maeve’s beloved sharks are in danger from a huge finning operation. She throws herself into trying to identify those involved – even at risk to her own life. Ann Kidd Taylor has, in my opinion, covered this horrendous phenomenon exceptionally well.
I found myself nodding along; emotional and disgusted at the actions of humanity – all in the name of greed.
‘People were killing them faster than they could reproduce. It was pretty clear that at this rate most species would be extinct in a matter of decades.’
There is so much wildlife in trouble; so many endangered animals, that the plight of sharks can often be forgotten. Maeve acknowledges this in the book:
‘If it had been dolphins or whales, the whole world would be up in arms. But it was sharks.’
Kidd Taylor serves us up a disturbing taste of what’s really going on in our seas – evoking images of hundreds of shark fins lying on tarpaulin, describing how fins (and often tails) are sliced while the shark is still alive, before the body is thrown overboard – left to bleed or drown to death.
It’s horrendous and it’s wiping out a staggering number of sharks each year. But often, the publicity doesn’t reach as widely as campaigns do for other animals. In fact, I think that the plight of most marine species doesn’t hit home as hard as the plight of animals on land – possibly because it’s harder to monitor things in the ocean.
This isn’t enough for Maeve though. She is a fantastic female role model when you look at her actions in conservation. She is determined, passionate and does everything possible to help the police with the investigation and to increase publicity over what’s really going on in her town.
The Shark Club is a read which will transport you to sunnier climes, throw you into a romantic web and make you fall in love with the ocean all over again. The ocean helps Maeve understand and work through her own problems, and in turn, she devotes her life to research and protect its creatures. But she isn’t stupid. Despite its beauty and calming influence, Maeve knows the ocean can be a dangerous place – but she has a deep respect for it.
If only everyone else did.