I am delighted to join the blog tour for Sea Wife. Thank you so much to Grace Vincent and Fleet Reads for providing me with a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.
When Michael informs his wife Juliet that he is leaving his job and buying a sailboat, she is taken aback. And when he proposes they and their two young children take a year-long voyage, she is deeply apprehensive. But Michael is persuasive, and eventually she agrees to his plan. The family set off for Panama, where their sailboat awaits them – a boat that Michael has named the Juliet.
Initially, the experience is transformative: their marriage is given a gust of energy, and each of them is affected by the beauty and wildness of the sea. But slowly, the voyage begins to unravel.
Juliet’s account of the life-changing events at sea is spliced with Michael’s captain’s log, which provides a riveting slow-motion narration of those same inexorable events.
Sea Wife is a gripping novel about marriage, family and love in a time of unprecedented turmoil. It is unforgettable in its power and astonishingly perceptive in its portrayal of optimism, disillusionment and survival.
I am going to try and resist the temptation to fill this review with nautical metaphors, which won’t be easy, as this book carried me along as effortlessly as the tides (sorry). I was absolutely hooked from the start, and stayed up till stupid o’clock two nights in a row gripped by Juliet and Michael’s story. What struck me most about this novel is the way in which Gaige manages to perfectly balance the interior lives of her characters with the epic adventure that they find themselves on. There is a stunning mix of psychological insight and pure, thrilling action – a very difficult trick to pull off, but one which is beautifully and skilfully done here.
Both Juliet and Michael are complicated characters. Initially I was much more sympathetic towards Michael, whose sense of adventure and love of his wife and family are more immediately attractive qualities than Juliet’s introspective, doubtful questioning. However, as the novel progresses, it becomes clear that Juliet is suffering, and Michael’s gung-ho enthusiasm comes to seem less admirable when the burden his wife is carrying seems to go largely ignored.
I am sure many of us harbour (sorry) secret fantasies of disappearing off the grid, undertaking an adventure such as the sea voyage that Michael persuades Juliet to go on (there was a TV series about families living in the wilderness a few years ago that left me slightly wistful), but the cliche that you can’t run away from your problems is unfortunately true. Though Michael and Juliet do, at times, discover the kind of closeness that had been missing from their relationship, they cannot ignore the cracks, which follow them across the sea.
The structure of the book, with Juliet’s narration punctuated by extracts from Michael’s logbook, worked very well for me. At first, the two parallel narratives seem jarringly disconnected, but gradually the stories interweave and become more like a conversation. As the truth of the events of the voyage unfold, Juliet seems to come closer to a sort of understanding and acceptance, though nothing in this book is simple, and there are no easy answers.
The descriptions of the voyage, from the scenery to the sea itself to life on board the Juliet, are precise and gorgeous, and I was completely immersed in their journey. In all honesty, the storyline involving the police officers who show up at the house after the voyage is over was not necessary for me as a reader: it didn’t detract from the novel at all, but I was quite happy for the mysteries of the story to remain emotional rather than potentially criminal. I actually felt like this about another book I read this year, Where the Crawdads Sing, and I think it is just an indication that the emotional power of both books were enough for me – I didn’t need an added ‘plotline’, as I was already sold! But it certainly didn’t lessen my enjoyment. Similarly, the postscript to the book was a nice addition, but I didn’t need it to feel as if the story was complete. It did, however, show off Gaige’s incredible range as a writer – I am very keen to read more of her work.
Sea Wife is a fascinating book: a combination of a psychological thriller, an adventure story and a literary meditation on the complexities of relationships. It is both entertaining and thought-provoking, and I highly recommend this book to anyone who likes compelling literary fiction with a strong hook and plenty of insight.
Sea Wife by Amity Gaige is published by Fleet and is out NOW.