Book Review: The Plover by Brian Doyle

The Plover by Brian Doyle is a story of ocean adventure and recovery from loss, with a little magic and mystery added.  The story is named for the small, unusual boat that takes its captain, passengers he picks up along the way, and the reader on a journey through the Pacific, human nature, and redemption.

It begins when Declan O’Donnell leaves the shore, and, and of course (he thinks), all of his problems, to head “west and then west!”  His escapist plan does not take him away from those close to him.  However, on a small island way out in the Pacific, he gets a message to pick up one of his friends, Piko, and his disabled daughter. Pipa.  Declan’s solo journey on his small boat gradually changes to a voyage of recovery for many, as the population gradually grows from one person to seven, and even a tiny bird recovers on the Plover.  Piko and Pipa are both still trying to deal with the death of wife and mother Elly.  This loss is added to the devastation of a school bus accident that left Pipa paralyzed.  When asked why he wanted to sail on the Plover, Piko answered, “…I’m so lost at sea that being lost at sea for real is not so bad.” (67)

The book is not strongly plot driven, but there is excitement and tension when the Plover encounters storms and a mysterious cargo ship.  All the characters introduced have a place in the story, and paying attention as characters and details are described is rewarded as the story unfolds. Doyle neatly ties the characters and details together, creating an uplifting ending.  Even the character we only meet just before he is swept away by the storm is interesting, and tied to the overall story.

The stream of consciousness narration may be off-putting to some, but I found it very engaging.  The fact that sometimes the consciousnesses we hear are not human is interesting and refreshing.  Doyle’s use of language and narrative kept me completely engaged, and after I read the book I re-read parts of it right away.   The hints of our favorite sea stories in the presence of the ocean, the birds, and the rogue cargo ship were just right; I did not find them overbearing.  These are the stories that have kept us dreaming for centuries.  And, as the minister of fisheries and marine resources and foreign affairs (you must read to find out how he joins the Plover’s crew) says, “But if we do not dream, then I think perhaps we are misusing our heads.” (259)

All characters grow before the story ends.  They grow and recover their best selves, even the little warbler with the broken wing.  The story and its ending honor the resilience of all life.  I enjoyed this book thoroughly, and now intend to go looking for Brian Doyle’s other books.  How I missed seeing his others before, I do not know, but I am ready to rectify that now.   I also bought a spare copy of The Plover to pass on to friends and family. 

- Shana