Book Review: A Sea-Chase, by Roger McDonald

Judy Compton is a failed school teacher who finds herself involved in an anti-nuclear protest which involves joining a flotilla to sail to the testing grounds.

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Roger McDonald is a multi-award winning Australian novelist, having won the NSW, Victorian, and SA Premiers’ Literary Awards, the Miles Franklin Award and SA Festival Prize for Fiction. Unfortunately I have again found myself in the position in that I didn’t like or enjoy a book which is categorised as a literary novel.

Where reviewer Christopher Grierson, quoted on Penguin Australia’s product page, has asserted that A Sea Chase melds the lure of ocean sailing, a love story, interesting characters and the politics of the 1970s and 80s together such that ‘…like all great literary novels these somewhat disparate parts sit together wonderfully and make sense‘, I have to disagree. I found the narrative tedious and confusing mainly, I believe, because I didn’t care about the characters.

Judy Compton is a failed school teacher who, through Ken, a departmental inspector, meets and falls in love with Wes who lives and works on Ken’s boat. Judy has a strained relationship with her parents who live apart – her father on marginal farming land in a virtual shed while her mother is an award winning scientist. I was disappointed in the early part of the novel that Judy’s self-realisation was portrayed as being possible only through Wes, especially at a time when the politics of gender and second wave feminism were so active.

In contrast to Judy, Wes gives his all to ideas or projects. We see this in his enthusiasm for anti-nuclear protesting which involves joining a flotilla to sail to the testing grounds. Because Judy is not committed to the cause Wes doesn’t invite her, which leaves her both angry and jealous of those who are going. Changes in circumstances find Judy on board and in great danger. Without giving anything away, this results in major changes in their relationship, to the extent that it is never the same again.

In my reading of the novel, McDonald has portrayed complex relationships, politics and their interactions as binary oppositions and life is rarely that simple. Perhaps this is a device to keep all the characters in their correct place in the story and the interlinking sub plots, of which there are many. If you have an interest in sailing this book may appeal to you but I can’t recommend it.

Reviewed by Jan Kershaw

Rating out of 10:  6

Distributed by: Penguin Australia
Release Date: October 2017
RRP: $32.99 trade paperback, $12.99 eBook

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