A young Irish man comes to stay with his sister, keen to erase his troubled past in the heat of the Dubai sun. A Russian sex worker has outsmarted the system so far – but will her luck run out? A Pakistani taxi driver dreams of a future for his daughters. An Emirate man hides the truth about who he really is. An Ethiopian maid tries to carve out a path of her own. From every corner of the globe, Dubai has made promises to them all. Promises of gilded opportunities and bright new horizons, the chance to forget the past and protect long-held secrets.
But Dubai breaks its promises, with deadly consequences.
In a city of mirages, how do you find your way out?
Jamie O’Connell’s debut novel just GOT me. I read it from cover to cover on a hot sunny Sunday this month and promptly zoomed it into my top reads of 2021. Sometimes you just connect with a book as the characters and the writing just intersect with the way you are feeling right now and it just hits perfectly, and Diving For Pearls with the glitz, glamour and corruption at the heart of life in this million dollar city really stole my heart this summer.
I was initially tempted by the gorgeous colours of the front cover and the fact that it has been so long since I’ve managed to make it abroad myself made me desperate to read it. Last weekend saw me reclining on the decking in the garden totally immersed in these characters and their stories story and engrossed in this richly described and fascinating ex-pat world.
The fact that we get such a fascinating insight into the layers and echelons of Dubai society made this read such an interesting one. The fact that we start with a missing girl and a dead body sounds familiar at first, but the way that this society operates makes this story reallly compelling as you start to peel away the layers of wealth and privilege and get a glimpse into the murky layers below.
The writing is superb, capturing tiny details about these characters that make you see how this country looks from such very different perspectives – life in Dubai certainly feels different if you are a member of a wealthy Emirate family, compred with Gite – a maid who’s come here to work, all the way from Ethiopia and almost lives the life of an indentured servant with no access to her passport or any sense of liberty or agency. Siobhan’s expat life is a far stretch from Tahir’s – whilst she spends her day shopping and treating herself, he is working every hour that God sends to care for his family back home..
Diving For Pearls allows us to see the narrative unfold from the perspectives of all of these different characters – with all of their varying levels of power, insight and privilege and this is a tantalising way to ensure that we keep on reading to find out exactly what a stratified society Dubai actually is and how different it must be to work there as one of the ‘haves’ rather than the ‘have nots’ It’s so hard to believe that this is a debut novel as you are carried forward not just because of the clever plotting, but through the way that all of these diverse characters have come to life and are able to lend us an insight into the missing girl and what might really be behind her death…
Tahir was my favourite character and I loved the way that we see Dubai from such a different point of view through his storyline, breaking way from the stereotypes that Dubai is just a playground for the super rich and not looking below the glittering facade hidden from us to draw us into the story and keep turning the pages, immersed within this multilayered world. where each strata of society both obseves and is observed…
This is a powerful, affecting and evocative read that I wholeheartedly recommend. I hate spoilers so all I can say is you just HAVE to read it for yourself. Thanks so much to Anne Cater ar Random Things Tours for the chance to review this fanastic debut. My sister has now nicked my copy and is obsessed with it – and I can’t see me wrestling it off her any time soon…
I can’t believe it’s his debut novel and can’t wait to read more of Jamie O’Connell’s writing after these fascinating insights into a society riven by wealth, social status and power. He certainly is a talented writer and definitely one to watch.
Praise for Diving For Pearls
A hugely engaging novel from a talented new writer — John Boyne
A compelling tale uncovering a world of secrets, injustice and, for the lucky few, escape — Anne Griffin ― author of When All is Said
Shimmering, beguiling and ruthless. A fizzing and assured debut ― Colin Barrett
Sprawling and encompassing so many worlds, it’s utterly gripping. Excellent. ― Sophie White, author of Corpsing
If you’re after a total page turner then try Diving for Pearls . . . A fantastic debut novel ― Stellar
Love this . . . a really fantastic read — Sinéad Moriarty
This page-turner is the debut offering from Cork writer O’Connell and the sign of great things to come from him ― Irish Examiner
The opening chapter grabbed me right away . . . I’m gripped ― The Art House, 96FM
[O’Connell’s] talent is clear ― The Ryan Tubridy Show
It’s tough to link so many narrative threads . . . but O’Connell pulls it off with aplomb ― Irish Times –This text refers to the paperback edition.
Writer On The Shelf
Jamie O’Connell has had short stories highly commended by the Costa Short Story Award and the Irish Book Award Short Story of the Year. He has been longlisted for BBC Radio 4 Opening Lines Short Story Competition and shortlisted for the Maeve Binchy Travel Award and the Sky Arts Futures Fund. He has an MFA and MA in Creative Writing from University College Dublin. He has worked for Penguin Random House, Gill Books and O’Brien Press. Diving for Pearls is his first novel.