To the Sea by Christine Dibley

January 22, 2017 Reviews 0 ★★★★

To the Sea by Christine DibleyTo The Sea by Christine Dibley
Published: December 22nd 2016 by Pan Macmillan AU
Format: Paperback, 447 pages
Genres: Contemporary, Magical Realism
Source: Publisher
Goodreads BooktopiaBookworld
4 Stars

On a clear summer's day, Detective Inspector Tony Vincent answers a call-out to an idyllic Tasmanian beach house. Surrounded by family and calm waters, seventeen-year-old Zoe Kennett has inexplicably vanished.

Four storytellers share their version of what has led to this moment, weaving tales which span centuries and continents. But Tony needs facts, not fiction: how will such fables lead him to Zoe and to the truth?

As Tony's investigation deepens, he is drawn into a world where myth and history blur, and where women who risk all for love must pay the price through every generation.

A gorgeous contemporary novel set in Tasmania, To the Sea was the perfect holiday read for me. Told in multiple points of view over the days between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, it conveys a beautiful story spanning generations.

We meet the Kennett family on the day they discover that Zoe — beautiful, daring, and fearless Zoe — is missing, most likely drowned within sight of their ancestral coastal home. Though we meet them first without him, it’s detective Inspector Anthony Vincent who brings us closer to this grieving family. Tony stood apart for me because he’s so different from most other crime novel leads I’ve read. He’s a dedicated detective, a good son, and a genuinely nice soul to be around. He cares.

And perhaps he cares too much about the beautiful missing teenager, whose fate enraptures him from the moment he sees her smiling photograph. Is it cliched? Absolutely. But it was interesting to see him slide down that slippery slope until he was almost obsessed with a woman he’d never met.

The real draw of To the Sea, for me anyway, is the selkie mythology that’s woven throughout its pages. There’s nothing new about the mythology but I loved the way it was used. As the author says in her acknowledgements, this is a book about mothers and their daughters; generations of women who bear the weight of unimaginable sacrifice. But this tale about women and their mysteries is conveyed predominantly through the eyes of outsiders. Aside from Eva, none of the narrators are part of the long line of women with connections to a mysterious and magical past. Only one of the other narrators is female. Instead, the mythology and history are conveyed by men who, in their own ways, fell violently in love with these otherworldly women.

The men form the only really problematic part of the story for me. They were men who fell in love with ideas and, as a whole, couldn’t deal with the reality. Which is ironic because they describe their women as having a weak grip on reality. The men are selfish, even when they’re trying their hardest not to be, and I found few redeeming qualities in any of them. This is not a fault of the book but rather an artefact of my discomfort in reading about situations of domestic inequality. I know we can wave our hands and say it was all normal for the time, and perhaps it was, but reading about physically, mentally and emotionally abusive men, marital rape, and other things that I consider horrific just isn’t my cup of tea.

I knew there wasn’t going to be a fantastical element to this book, not in the way I’m used to anyway, but I’d forgotten how unsatisfying it can be to read literary fiction. I enjoyed the experience — the pacing and multiple points of view meant that I could read the novel easily during the chaotic holiday period — but the ending was distinctly … anticlimactic.

I loved the Tasmanian setting! The author brought it to life vividly and it was wonderful reading a holiday story with beaches and thongs and surfing instead of snow.

To the Sea mixes elements of literary and crime fiction with magical realism to create an intriguing tale of sacrifice and mystery.

BloggingOutsideTheBox Blogging Outside the Box is a  feature at Speculating on SpecFic, where books outside the SFF banner are reviewed. It is intended to highlight some of the non speculative fiction titles I am reading and share my thoughts with readers.

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