lizabelle: (Book and sea)
[personal profile] lizabelle
If I close my eyes I can imagine crashing. I see it in slow motion, like a crash-test dummy reconstruction where I'm the dummy. The Laser swerving across the road to hit a brick wall - the one near the sports grounds at the back of Seaforth - yellow bonnet crumpling, metal screeching, indicator lights exploding and spraying orange glass. My neck whiplashes forward, the windscreen shatters and the car presses in around me like a cocoon. Tight, tight, tighter, the warmest hug in the world.

It scares me. I don't want to do it. But sometimes I think it's the only way I'll be able to turn off what's in my head.

(From chapter 2 of Raw Blue.)

Carly is living a half-life, working dead hours in a restaurant so she can surf during the day, and generally trying to get by without being noticed. Surfing is the only way she knows to be happy, because it allows her to forget the awful thing that happened to her - the thing she refuses to talk about, but which permeates every aspect of her existence.

Despite her best efforts, Carly becomes pulled into the lives of others, most notably a lonely woman in the flat above, an oddball kid and an attractive surfer with a mysterious past of his own.

The thing about hiding from your trauma is that it doesn't go anywhere. It stays in your head, taking up more and more space, becoming more and more impermeable, until inevitably you crash into it. In Raw Blue, the reader can see the crash coming from chapter one, but the narrative is so compelling, so exquisitely, quietly painful, that (to adopt a cliché) it's impossible to look away.

Because Carly's narrative, filled as it is with the minutiae of a life unlived, is hugely compelling. Her uncertainties and fears (what will happen if she does this? How will someone react if she puts a foot wrong?) are exaggerated versions of those faced by many of us as we navigate the world on a daily basis. She is smart but vulnerable and dedicated to being invulnerable, constantly prepared to forestall the next bad thing that might happen to her.

From Carly's viewpoint even her escape (surfing) is fraught with tension. Take the line-up of surfers, with its internal politics and suspicion of outsiders, women and children. The chaos of the ocean despite Coastalwatch's best efforts at prediction. Carly's attempts to stay under the radar, which are continually thwarted by the attentions, well-intentioned or not, of her fellow surfers. However hard she tries, she can't avoid bumping up against other people and her own past.

As a first novel, Raw Blue is seriously impressive - and I haven't even mentioned a lot of the things I liked about it, so I'll just list them briefly here: the setting (Sydney's Northern Beaches), the taut, compelling writing, the understated anger (so understated that you get the impression even Carly doesn't realise it's there) in the narrative voice, the way what was done to Carly is dealt with, the very lovely (and yet imperfect) Ryan, Eagar's obvious love for the ocean. This is the first of Kirsty Eagar's books that I've read, and I will be on the lookout for more.

Version I read: Catnip Books paperback won in a competition held by Shelleyrae of Book'd Out. The book is available in Australia, the UK and I believe also in the USA.
To learn more about Kirsty Eagar, check out her website.


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