Thursday 4 October 2012

Review of Archipelago, by Monique Roffey

I knew I'd like this book, because it's got a lot of sea and a lot of weather, and I like a bit of sea and weather. But I didn't realise what a treat I was in for. This book is beautiful; one of the most beautiful books, in fact, that I have ever read. The writing is, in many places, exquisite, and characters so real they have taken up residence in my heart.

After a devastating flood sweeps through their home in Trinidad, killing his baby son, Gavin takes his six-year-old daughter, Ocean, and their elderly dog, Suzy, and sets sail in Romany, the boat he owns with a friend but hasn't sailed for years. It's a spur of the moment decision and it soon becomes clear that he hasn't quite thought it through. But Gavin cannot continue in the life that he's been left with. Is he running away? Perhaps. But it's more of a journey of discovery. He needs to find out who he is now that the flood has swept away his identity as a husband and father, provider and protector.   'His wife made him healthy, stable. Now he is half-himself, not himself.' 

It was the power of nature that took so much away from him, and it is as though he now wants to face nature, to put his trust in it once more.  As they sail through archipelagos and out across the vast ocean, they come up against nature's violence and treachery, which is vividly, often viscerally described:
'The boat begins to buck and nosedive into the waves...forward and then backwards; up and then down; restless unpredictable rollercoaster movements...He's forgotten how quickly the sea can change. One moment it can be flat, quiet, agreeable, then of another mood entirely, wicked and vexed. The sea can be a bitch. She can hurl you  from your bunk, have you vomiting out your guts, lash you with stray halyards. She never wants to be taken for granted.'

But they also encounter moments of startling beauty and joy. They see flying fish and brightly coloured coral; they swim with dolphins, and they encounter many other wonders of nature.

I won't deny that this book has some terribly sad moments. I sobbed - I mean sobbed - more than once; but I also felt the more positive emotions, the awe, the delight, the amusement, the love. This is Monique Roffey's real skill; the observations are so acute, the imagery so perfect, that not only do we see what the characters see, hear what they hear and smell what they smell, we actually feel what they feel.

The relationship between father and daughter is beautifully drawn. Gavin is often humbled by his daughter, by her trust in him and by her perceptiveness. He observes her closely and suffers with her:
'He can see her puzzling...she is quietly working out how many different types of loss might exist. Many, my mermaid. Many.'

I loved the characters in this novel, especially the three main characters, Ocean with her little Snoopy sunglasses, Suzy, the faithful dog who eats with them,  sleeps with them and swims with them, and Gavin, who is a good man, struggling to cope. This is a novel of loss and grief, but also of the power of love and life. When I'd finished it, I didn't want to start another book for a while, because I wanted to dwell on this one for just a bit longer. I'm pretty certain I'll be reading it again.  

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  1. What a great line - I like a bit of sea and weather. That alone makes me want to read the book!

    1. You won't regret it - there a lot of sea and weather to experience in this fabulous book.