I’m not sure whose trepidation was greater when Joanna Rossiter handed me a review copy of her debut novel, The Sea Change. Would I like it? The author was afraid for her creation and I was afraid for our friendship.
My concerns were allayed when, around 70 pages into the book, I nearly missed my stop on the train journey to work. One minute I was huddled in the rain with Violet and Annie, cold, wet, muddy and heartbroken, and the next the word ‘Blackheath’ reached across the decades and plonked me unceremoniously back in the present day, scrabbling my belongings together and hurrying off the train.
Set partly in wartime Wiltshire and partly in post-tsunami India a generation later, The Sea Change is a study of love and loss, of the importance of place and of the fragile strength of the ties that bind.
Joanna has created a rich, compelling story, and her intriguing word-choices, her wonderful sense of place and her complex – and often frustrating – characters creep up on you like, well, like the tidal wave she describes. Then, like the wave, they swamp you, taking you captive, and leaving their mark long after you’ve closed the cover for the last time.
I spent much of the book wanting to bash the main characters’ heads together. True to their time, they held so much inside, when actually talking to each other could have solved so many problems, and eased the grief that they carried like a second skin, seething and groaning beneath the surface of their quiet, dutiful lives.
But that is a criticism of the time, not of the book. Their reticence is a significant part of what compels you to keep reading – every snippet they give away is a tasty morsel, awakening your appetite for more.
Now this is me, and my regular readers know that I’m too critical to easily give a completely glowing review. My one criticism of this book is that sometimes Joanna seems to try too hard to find a new metaphor or simile for every description, and to imbue every twig with depths of meaning. It took me a while to get into the book for that reason, though I’ll admit that that might be in large part because of the expectations and anticipations I was bringing to the text.
The similes and metaphors may have been abundant, but they were all undeniably beautiful, clever and very creative – for instance nervous anticipation is brilliantly described as a character’s heart ‘sparrowing’ in her chest – and it only took about 30 pages before I was so engrossed in the story that the individual words were no longer making themselves so stridently heard.
Joanna is my friend, and has been a huge help with my own writing, so I couldn’t have written a bad review even if I’d hated her book. That’s why it’s such a relief that I loved it – I don’t have the moral dilemma of choosing whether to lie to you or hurt a friend!
If you’re in London, her book launch is on 8 May but is now fully booked. If you’re going to the Hay Festival, you can hear her speaking about the book there on 1 June. A great opportunities to get your copy signed – but you’ll have to buy it first!
I highly recommend it.
My rating: 4.5/5 (just for all those similes. Sorry, Jo!)
Picture Credit: Imber by jonno259 (Creative Commons)
[Post edited on 3 May – to reflect that the launch is now almost fully booked, sorry! Well done, Jo!!]