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A novel set in California, Maui, Bali and Western Australia (sisterly love)

14th February 2014

The Sea Sisters by Lucy Clarke, novel set in California, Maui, Bali, Western Australia.

“..she talked about travelling and the ocean, and of books by Hemingway that had given her a thirst for both...”

IMG_2273Families and How to Survive Them might have been an alternative title to this very readable novel (the original book with this title was written by John Cleese together with his psychotherapist Robin Skynner and delves into the complex ties at the heart of familial relationships).

Mia and Katie are two sisters who have had a fraught, and at times volatile quite relationship, and their interactions form the backbone of the novel. Early on in the book Mia dies in Bali, the verdict is suicide. She leaves behind a diary-cum-travelogue which passes to Katie. Having that personal connection to her dead sister is a source of great comfort to Katie.

Yet, naturally, she has real difficulty processing her sister’s death and the only resolution to engage with the grieving process is to follow in her sister’s travelling footsteps, using the diary as her guide, until she eventually arrives in Bali. Will she or won’t she learn more about what really lies behind Mia’s death?

As the novel gets into its stride, it becomes ever more clear that Katie and Mia come from a hugely dysfunctional family, with a lot of loss around. It almost beggars belief that one family, not to mention one individual, can harbour so many hidden secrets, which of course have a way of impacting on present behavior and choice of life partner.

There is Finn, Mia’s docile travelling companion, who accompanies her on her trip. Lovelorn Finn, what to do with him? Mia certainly wasn’t picking up the signs he was sending thick and fast to her, too involved in her own corkscrew affairs (I leave the definition of ‘affair’ open). And Katie, engaged to steady Ed, who supports her through thick and thin, but has a bit of a revelation…

The backstory in all its depressing detail and the lack of boundaries in this family emerge like a blight on the young peoples’ lives, which, coupled with family secrets (never a good thing) become truly heart sinking, yet nevertheless very compelling.

The structure of the book is unusual, one chapter is devoted to Mia, via her diary entries, the next is Katie following up her footsteps. This feels like quite a linear way of conceiving a storyline, it does work, but there are occasions – particularly with the shorter chapters – when a particular scenario stops, just as it is getting going, story interruptus. Then the next one resumes. In some ways it almost feels like a domino game, where the same numbers abut each other, the next number is random and leaves the way open for a new mini adventure to begin.

It is certainly a story with descriptions of lush locale, where the smells, the sounds and the sights all pulse into the reader’s consciousness. It is a racing page-turner. I was left with a haunting sense of the people and the locations, but an overriding sense of how timely therapy might actually have enabled a different outcome. But these are characters in a book and not real people, and you will take them into your heart as they plough the minefield that is their story.

You can connect with the author on Twitter and via her website.

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