It’s interesting to me that the last time I made a concerted effort to read The Orange Long/Short List brought about my first experience of Samantha Hunt’s writing with ‘The Invention of Everything Else’, and now as I try and read all the Oranges I can again I have had the pleasure of Samantha’s writing once more with ‘The Seas’. What I have found doubly interesting is that I have enjoyed this book more out of the two (my mother has read both and thinks the opposite way round, though like me she liked them both a lot) and yet ‘The Seas’ was Samantha Hunt’s debut novel it just didn’t get picked up and published in the UK until last year.
‘The Seas’ is the tale of a young girl as she grows to young woman, with the ongoing possibility of being a mermaid if what her father told her as a young girl is true, in a remote seaside town nobody wants to live in, most have become alcoholics or suicidal, and yet a place that no one seems to be able to escape from. Except that her father did escape in his own way when one day he took a walk straight into the sea and never came back. Most would assume that he was dead yet our narrator, and occasionally her mother, sit and wait on the beach for his return in hope. Living mainly in her head, we follow her obsession with both her father, and the fact she believes she sees him and occasionally finds wet footprints around the house, and her obsession with an older man who is not long back from fighting in Iraq and who has Post Traumatic Stress disorder.
“People often suggest that it would be better if we knew for certain whether or not my father is dead rather than just disappeared. That to me seems cruel, as if they want me to abandon all hope. That is how dreary people try to keep things here on dry land.”
Looking at the book like that you could think that the scope of the book is too big, especially as the novel is a slim one, and somewhat surreal. Yet Samantha Hunt has created a rather magical, if a little melancholic, tale about loss and coming to terms with your own situation especially when it is not one of your choosing. As you read along you begin to realise that you aren’t been given the straight forward story from the narrator, for example when people start to melt before her eyes, and so reality and her imagination inform your readers view of her world and just how she is coping with it, which doesn’t always make sense initially but soon rings very true. There is also a real fluidity to her voice, and this is of course through the prose, which adds to the books watery and ethereal feel. I’m not sure that makes sense but if you read the book it might… maybe?
What I found rather surprising with this novel and what added incredible element was the story of Jude, the man our narrator obsesses over. Amongst all the named chapters it is ‘War Among The Mayflies’ which is Jude’s first hand telling of his time in Iraq and another mini short story of sorts within a story. I found this incredibly shocking and moving all in one. It seemed a very debut novel thing to do and cram a book with all an author’s ideas and topics, yet it did feel very much part of the story and added a further dimension and poignancy to a stunningly written book.
‘The Seas’ may not have a whacking great plot running through it, and certainly not a linear one, yet it certainly has a heck of a lot to say and sometimes no plot is needed in a novel. It’s a book filled with emotions which manages to say so much and affect its reader whilst being quite silent and subtle. It’s a debut that takes several risks, the characters aren’t instantly likeable, the feeling of melancholy throughout (though its not depressing there’s very few comic breaks, but then why should there be?) and the sudden strand change of isolated North America to a war torn Iraq, yet all these risks pay off creating a rather brilliant and beautifully bizarre piece of fiction. 8.5/10
If reading the Orange Longlist over the next few weeks is going to be as interesting as this then its not going to be quite the struggle I thought it might. I’m trying very hard not to compare them all to ‘Mr Chartwell’ though (funny how two Hunt’s debut novels have been so good) I have to admit. Has anyone else read ‘The Seas’ and if so what did you think? If not, are you tempted?