GOLDDIGGER, Hilary McCollum – book review

‘Golddigger is a lesbian historical novel set against the landscapes of famine Ireland and gold rush California.
Frances Moriarty prepares for another day working in New York as shoeshine boy Frank. She has left her family and the great love of her life, Kitty Gorman, behind in Ireland. A letter from home brings word of more famine deaths. But Frank/Frances’s life is set to change as a newspaper article prompts her to pursue a chance of fortune in the California gold fields.
Golddigger is a love story and epic quest, intertwining two narratives about Frank/Frances: her attempts to claw out a new life as one of the California ‘forty-niners’, crossing America in pursuit of gold; and the life she has left behind in Ireland, falling in love with a woman for the first time until the famine wreaks devastation on her community.’
I went along to the book launch of Golddigger in May of this year at The Playhouse, Derry and left that evening looking forward to the read. I had Leaving Cert students at the time preparing for their exams so I put the novel alongside others that I had to read until I had some free days to do so. Those free days arrived just last week. With the Leaving Cert 2015 firmly behind me, it was time to set upon this intriguing novel, Golddigger.
I think I honestly expected it to be just another love story, only this time between two women. Boy was I shocked on entering these pages! What awaited me was a tale of hardship and famine: golddigging and death: friendship and comradeship: love and loss.
I, like every other reader of this novel embarked on the journey from West Ireland during famine times to New York, to California, alongside Frank/Frances. I felt like I was really there experiencing the hardship which she endured. Her time in Ireland and living in a strict rural Catholic family, falling in love with a girl, working her family’s farm, and watching her friends and true love die: and then to see her transformation to a man (for the sake of survival) and follow her dream of finding Gold, and eventually finding love again. 
This novel brings the reader to the famine days. No history in school showcased the famine and it’s harsh reality as clear as this read did. Nothing has ever shown me just how devastating these times really were. I witnessed not only the loss of people, but the loss of communities and I actually felt the starvation which these families went through.
At the heart of it all is the love story of Frances and Kitty. It survived through the sheer determination and love of the two girls and the secrecy which they had to endure, Ultimately the famine brought it to its cruel end. But it was also the beginning of another reality. The reality of survival on the coffin ship journey to America. The survival of a young woman alone in America. The survival of a young woman, taking on the persona of a man, travelling across America to find Gold and the ultimate acceptance of her true self.
The story of Frances and Kitty is told in a way that we don’t know the extent of the journey until the very end. Each page tells us something new. Each chapter keeps us wanting to know more. Although it continually switches between Ireland and America, the reader is consistently engaged and at no time is allowed to diverge away from either continent. We are continually encapsulated in Frances’ narrative.
There were times when I had goosebumps: there were times when I laughed: but unfortunately there were so many times when I cried. It is a story of love and loss, but more importantly it is a story of hope. Hope for the future and hope for Frances. Hope for every young woman who finds love with the same sex.
This is a novel which is destined for the big screen. I can already see the girls walking the road to Cobh: I can see the journey across the Atlantic on the coffin ship: and I can certainly see the journey through the Rocky mountains to California. I have my own picture of Ruby’s in Hangtown! It is all there for the screen to showcase, and I don’t doubt that if this novel gets into the right hands, this is one to watch out for.
Hilary McCollum has excelled in penning this novel. It is written in such a way that anyone can read it and get something different from it. It will appeal to all ages, male and female. And if you don’t shed a tear on Kitty’s departure, you’re not possibly human!
Golddigger by Hilary McCollum is available to buy from Bella BooksAmazon USA and Amazon UK
If you want to read a snippet of the novel prior to purchase, check it out here
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