the guardian Fri 22 August 2008
Nicholas Shakespeare follows up his travel book In Tasmania with this slow-moving novel, set in one of the island's coastal communities. It concerns husband and wife Merridy and Alex, who are drawn together by shared sadness (Alex's parents are dead while Merridy's brother disappeared as a child). When they do not have a child (according to Merridy's cousin Tildy, "children are crap" anyway), each turns to different sources of life: Merridy to the water and its precarious oyster harvest; Alex to the land, farming with his back resolutely to the sea (which he symbolically fears). When a storm threatens to engulf the land, Alex rescues a mysterious boy from a replica brigantine. They take him in, but their foundling (a chippy teenager who pretends to be a ghost) widens the cracks in their lives. This is an absorbing and well-made novel even though the heavy symbolism and the characters' introspection occasionally makes for listless prose. Its humane perspective and palpable sense of place, however, make it far more imaginatively habitable than its setting.