‘The Seas’ by Samantha Hunt
Haunting prose, well sculpted book. From the outset, this has a very distinct voice. The prose is flooded with (har har) metaphors for the sea and water, the style is quite childlike and innocent, and it is clear from the outset that the reader is seeing the world through a very distinct and warped lens. What’s interesting about this novel is that it also manages to put an interesting and compelling story together, without relying too heavily on the prose style to simply take us through and hold our interest. The setting is described and evoked in minute detail, yet never named, so it can therefore allow itself to be substituted for all small northern seaside towns that are held in check by the sea. The writer weaves mythology and etymology throughout the story of the protagonist, which adds to the feel of an almost other-worldy presence. It feels both timeless and relevant. The fact that this is all hinged around a character whom the protagonist loves who has just come back from the Iraq war, helps to cement it in reality and make the ideas and emotions over arching in terms of an examination of the effects of pain and abandonment on the human mind. The consciousness of the character seems to lap in and out like waves, so at times it is clear we are in her head, and at others we are in the ‘real’ world. This allows her to get away with some very interesting and unusual dialogue which would be impossible in a more realistic novel.
What impressed me most I think was the structure. Having experienced this first hand, I get the feeling that prose and sentences can be honed and shaped, whereas managing a whole piece and threading information through it which leads to a climax is far more difficult. Or at least that’s where my personal difficulties lie. The climactic plot twist which takes us in an unexpected direction is nicely linked to the prologue at the beginning, and the ending takes us forward into unclear territory. From a three-act point of view, it takes us nicely through the key plot points and deposits us in not entirely unexpected territory. Having said that, the rest of it shifts much more subtly, so that we are almost unaware of the climax building. There were only a couple of points where I suddenly realised we were in an important ‘scene’ that was pulling the narrative forward. This is probably because I’m currently obsessed with doing this in my own book, rather than her plotting being clunky.
Essentially it is a coming of age book, but it is managed with such effective melancholy that it seems somehow older and wiser than that. I like the way that over the course of the book we felt the narrator becoming more and more isolated from those around her, and we began to doubt the validity of the way she saw the world more and more. The voice would be unsustainable for a longer book than this, and such a distinctive style forces lots of events to happen, but I found it compelling rather than tiresome. It had the weight of conviction behind it which made it work. Personally the scientist metaphors and images jarred, and I didn’t find that they worked or were especially relevant, but I can see why they made their way into the final edit. Teaching us that mythology is as relevant today as it ever was, this is a lovely book that will sit in your brain, washing through you, for many days after you read it.
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