Jonathan Amid - 2011-06-08 Untitled Document
Title: The Seas
Author: Samantha Hunt
Publisher: Picador USA
Click here to buy a copy from Kalahari.net.
What is the tenor of a heart breaking? How do we come to terms with loss so unbearable, so incredible, that it leaves us shaken to our very core? Samantha Hunt’s bleakly beautiful debut novel, The Seas, explores these questions in a lyrical, disarming style that leaves you breathless.
On the surface, The Seas tells a tragic, deceptively simple tale of longing and loss. The unnamed narrator is a teenager at loggerheads with the world around her, her only comforts in an alcoholic, bitter and isolated American seaside fishing village found in her overpowering love for the wounded, otherworldly Jude, a war veteran recently returned from the Iraq war. With no prospects of a better life, the narrator and Jude – a man thirteen years her senior – cling to stolen moments of unsanctioned, gentle companionship, finding respite from their icy cold surroundings and the darkness of men’s hearts. They fight against the lack and nonexistence they both feel and attempt to comfort each other away from the disapproving glances of the town.
What complicates their fractious relationship is the fact that the narrator’s deceased father haunts her days and nights with the unfathomable news that she is one “from the water”, an “undine”, a mermaid that has come to dry land to marry a mortal. According to myth and legend, undines cannot have a lasting relationship with their beloved, and the narrator is consistently torn between the corporeal, tangible reality of her time with Jude and the slippery outcome of her father’s words, the ultimate death of her desire.
Every paragraph of this emotionally raw page-turner is awash with undiluted watery metaphor and idiom, encapsulating a range of sentiments and sensations from anguish and agony to fleeting glimpses of rapture, recovery and connection. In some of the novel’s most striking moments the frayed mental state of the narrator is delicately tethered to the blunt force of the emotional trauma suffered by Jude upon his return from the seas. As the narrator’s increasingly desperate longing to be with Jude manifests in various aqueous episodes – relayed in short, sharp, stinging prose – Hunt simultaneously delves deep under the waves of war-related injury. She delivers a melancholic, echoing paean to the survivors of war and their families and to all of those who have loved and lost their guiding lights.
Right up until the final page Hunt deftly navigates the marriage of fact and fiction and wrings every possible emotion from a premise that never strains against the grain of conviction and sincerity. Her aqueous, wise words rouse the most acute of emotional responses, while her sensitivity to the longing and loss that define the human condition – the absence that echoes in the chamber of our hearts – is testament to a terrific new talent that deserves to be treasured. I cannot recommend The Seas enough.