Publishers Weekly (review date 8 May 1995)
SOURCE: A review of Mother of Pearl, in Publishers Weekly, Vol. 242, No. 19, May 8, 1995, p. 283.
[In the following positive review, the critic describes Morrissy's writing in Mother of Pearl as giving off "sparks of feminist insights and gimlet humor."]
A lushly lyrical portrait of women wrestling with their inner demons, this stunning first novel [Mother of Pearl] begins in the Irish sanatorium where tubercular Irene Rivers stays from 1947 through the mid-1950s, even after she is cured. Terrified of the outside world and having been brutalized by her father, Irene endures furtive sexual encounters with fellow patients and employees while remaining a virgin; she sees her sexual ministrations as a mission of mercy. In time, Irene marries Stanley Godwin, a tender but impotent outpatient, leaves the sanatorium and becomes obsessed with having a baby, even lying to neighbors that she is pregnant. Then she kidnaps an infant girl from a Dublin hospital, telling Stanley that "Pearl" is her own child by another patient. The illusion is shattered four years later when police arrest Irene and return Pearl to her newly widowed biological mother. Pearl, renamed Mary, grows up believing that she and her biological sister, Stella, had a third, "lost" sister, Jewel, who mysteriously vanished. In a first-person narrative occupying the final third of the novel and extending from her preadolescence into adulthood, Mary conjures Jewel as an imaginary companion while struggling to reclaim the buried memories of the years she lived as Pearl. Morrissy's writing gives off sparks of feminist insights and gimlet humor, and her sensuous, lilting prose propels a sensitive study of obsession, betrayal, neurosis and lost innocence.