I know, I know, the Orange season is over – the prize winner has been revealed. But I have decided to continue reading the long list. It may take me until the next long list is announced to finish, but I am reading on.
The Seas – Samantha Hunt
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Samantha Hunt’s The Seas is a strange but very compelling read. It is part fairytale, part coming of age story maybe?, part “see, these harsh realities of the world and the way people deal with it”.
In The Seas the unnamed narrator, a girl living in a remote seaside town that is well-known for its high rate of alcoholics, tries to ease the pain of her struggles to grow up in a home that is not exactly a home since her father left. She lives together with her mother and her grandfather. Her mother is still torn by the loss of her husband, while her grandfather was a typesetter and now concentrates on the origin of numerous strange words and phrases. The girl is in love with a thirteen-year-older war veteran, who has turned to alcohol to deal with the trauma that haunts him from his time in Iraq.
Before her father left (went out to sea, or fled, or died – or all of these), he told the girl that she came “from the water”. During the book, her daily struggles intertwine with mermaid myth and the ambivalence that is often present in words, while the narrator removes herself further and further from reality, creating an alternative world of her own.
This alternate world that is described as a realistic presence in the story of the girl’s troubles makes this a wonderfully magical story – but magical in an almost tragic way. While reading, I at times struggled to grasp what I was meant to believe, what was meant to be taken as reality and what was not. Now that I think about it, maybe it does remind me a little of The Life of Pi. But it is very different and original at the same time. It is this combination of a fantasy alternative story that the girl spins and the bleak reality of daily life in the seaside town that make this story very fascinating. Strange, yes. Not something everyone would enjoy, I’m sure. But it was one of the long-listed books I liked best for this year’s Orange Prize (from the ones I have read up to now).
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