This is a rewarding collection of 11 short stories set on, by, or near the sea. Many readers will be familiar with the sea as metaphor or in allegorical settings. Australian author Robert Drewe uses his considerable writing skill to provide new illumination for themes both dark and light; showing the reader the ever changing moods of the sea as it comes to represent freshness, renewal, and the search for freedom, as well as loss and danger.
In the first story Dr Pacific we meet octogenarian Bet, whose husband ‘Don dropped dead on the sand and that was that’- what a brilliant opening line (page 3). Although she is reminded of her own mortality, the story isn’t gloomy but rather, full of dark humour. Bet suggests to the woman collecting money for bandanas to keep fruit bats warm, that they’d be better off moving up to North Queensland if it’s too cold for them here. As in the sea itself, there are undercurrents to Bet’s loss as ‘…the days often look blurry around the edges…’ (page 3).
In Lavender Bay Noir the undercurrents are manifest as dangerous cross currents of sensuality which seduce and threaten the young, 1956 Olympic swimming hopeful, Brian. We meet him standing in his back garden being shaved by his mother-in-law, Dulcie, who lives with Brian and his wife Judy, her daughter. Although they initially appear to be very ordinary folk, I’m not giving anything away when I say it soon becomes clear this is a very strange household.
Readers may well think they know where a story is heading, as when Drewe pokes fun at Alex and Amanda from Melbourne who call themselves travellers rather than tourists in Varadero. At first it seems these two, who think they are better than other tourists, sorry… travellers, are the focus of the story. Then the focus shifts to the odd relationship between a sulky, young Cuban man and his unhappy, older male partner. In both instances Drewe is examining the psychological mystery of other people’s lives as seen by those observing them.
The sea and its changing moods and colour is the perfect narrative device for this wonderful collection of short stories. The wind, waves and tides will take you in unforeseen directions. Expect the unexpected, not neat resolutions or typical plots and you won’t be disappointed.
Reviewed by Jan Kershaw
Rating out of 10: 9
Distributed by: Penguin Random House Australia
Released: August 2018
RRP: $29.99 hardcover