Hovering between controlled, intense combative introspection and heart-in-the-throat emotion, Deeper Than the Sea compellingly seeks understanding of what the real heart of a filial relationship is.
Nelika McDonald’s novel is a sure-flowing, confidently-balanced one, turning on the fulcrum of decisions made by Theo (Theodora Abrams) and resulting in a special family unit that is herself and her daughter, 16 year old Beth.
What is Mother? What is Daughter? What fires and sustains their bond?
These questions are thrown at circumstances less than ideal. They are born of Theo being the afterthought; the ordinary runt of the litter in a wealthy English family of highly exceptional siblings; a relationship misfortune involving miscarriage, and emotional distance between herself and her gifted partner, Oliver.
Water becomes freedom and an identity forming force for Theo, at odds with herself and the high family expectations she cannot meet. The sea is a salve, a mystery to be respected, a key to so many things.
McDonald has fashioned in Theo a character of gritty self-deprecating depth, defensive vulnerability, and deep emotional honesty. Equally strong is Beth, a young woman of very high intelligence who, having lived the happiest, most secure of childhoods, is faced with the possibility that her Mother is not what she seems when events from the past intrude on and divide the pair.
Deeper Than the Sea’s language and setting is filled with the relaxed, soothing sights, sounds and rhythm of a small town coastal, Cardmoore, where Theo and Beth live, in sight of the sea. It is the upfront, yet sophisticated melding of peaceful coastal nature with Theo and Beth’s emotional strengths and weaknesses which making the novel simultaneously rich in emotional intensity as it is with a beatific calm.
The very environment, man-made and natural, is an emotional life sustaining force itself. McDonald’s ability to fuse the natural world with human character and personality is incredibly powerful in its directness and beauty, greatly accentuating the minutiae of the many interconnected relationships in the novel.
Deeper Than the Sea is a brilliant, heart-wrenching novel daring to visit truly hard and troubling questions at the core of that deepest of bonds, mother and child.
Reviewed by David O’Brien
Rating out of 10: 10
Distributed by: Pan Macmillan Australia
Released: June 2017
RRP: $29.99 trade paperback