Sunday, July 31, 2016

The Girl from the Sea by Shalini Boland


Rating: WARTY!

Erratum:
"Prising my fingers off the edge of the boat" should be "prying"!

This was an advance review copy from Net Galley for which I thank the publisher.

Mia comes to consciousness lying literally in the littoral on the south coast of England, cold, wet with saltwater, and with a woman and a dog peering at her. Soon there are police and an ambulance, and Mia is in hospital. She remembers nothing about herself, not even her name. She doesn't recognize herself in the mirror, nor does she recognize her boyfriend when he comes to pick her up. Later she doesn't recognize her mother or younger sister. She remembers other things, such as how to row (she was passionate about rowing on the river by her house), and she remembers how to drive, how to use a computer, and so on, but anything personal has gone.

It's counter intuitive, I know, but the author gets it right. You'd think you would recall things which were very personal to you or which were lifelong - such as your family and your name - but retrograde amnesia really can do this to a person. Retrograde refers to memory loss of things past - memories which are there, but which you cannot access. Anterograde, in my view the worst kind, refers to new memories - you can't move new memories into long-term memory and so each day begins anew for you, with precisely the same memories you had the day before - rather like Drew Barrymore's character in the movie 50 First Dates

My problem with this novel wasn't with the medical aspects of it, but with the fact that to me, this was another case of a female author doing serious disservice to her main female character. I don't mind stories where the main character starts out weak, and/or stupid, and grows stronger and smarter. Unlike many reviewers I don't even mind stories where the main character doesn't change or grow. There is story-telling to be had there.

What I don't like at all is a story where the main character becomes weaker or more stupid as the story goes on, and this story was one of those. I don't like stories where the character isn't true to herself, and so acts out of character for no reason. This story was one of those. I like even less stories where the main character is female and becomes totally dependent upon a man to validate and save her. I can't understand why so many female writers do this to their characters. What this meant was that while this story started out as an intriguing mystery - what had happened to this woman - it quickly deteriorated into a bog-standard harlequin romance, in which I have zero interest. The only thing missing was the bare-chested man on the cover.

The story quickly deteriorated into a romance, leaving the mystery in the back seat, and Mia began behaving more and more stupidly, and it was out of character. She was supposed to have been a teacher not long before, which is an admirable thing to make your character, but nowhere did we see her teaching skills come to the fore, which begged the question, why make her a teacher if you're not going to use it? She could have been a wait-person, or middle management, or a car mechanic and the story would have remained exactly the same.

The second problem was Mia's stupidity. Her memory wasn't the only thing she lost. She also lost her wallet and her house keys, but despite being in some fear,she never once (not in the 80% of this I read) considered cancelling her credit cards and changing the locks on her house. Stupid. yes, she was undergoing something horrible, but she had every motive to act and she failed. Worse, the police failed to advise her to do this.

Obviously what she went through was horrible - and hard to imagine (which I suspect is part of the problem with the writing here). I mean it's easy to say now what I would do in those circumstances, but if I lost my memory, how would I recall what I'd decided I would do?! LOL! That said, Mia could have been presented in a lot better light than a wheedling, tearful and tediously weak character who has impulsive sex a fails to consider whether she might become pregnant from it.

Worse than that, she acts stupidly on many occasions, way beyond what you might expect from someone who had been through what she went through. She acts with the impulsiveness of a child, without forethought, despite living in a certain amount of fear which is very understandable and which you'd think would compel her to act more cautiously and sensibly. She proves herself to be consistently weak and easily-manipulated even as she's purportedly asserting her independence and self control. Clearly what we're shown is at odds with what we're told.

As soon as Mia appears to be growing out of this dreary inertial lethargy, she immediately submerges herself back into it at the mercy of Jack - a complete stranger - someone she barely knew when she had her memories and now literally doesn't know at all. Despite being screwed-over by her boyfriend and by her family, she inexplicably and inexcusably trusts Jack. What this means to the reader is that just as Mia is beginning to find herself, she completely loses herself again! The blurb for this novel asks, "When you don't even know who you are, how do you know who to trust?" yet Mia seems to have no problem falling all over Jack, and he comes to tiresomely dominate her thoughts pretty much to the exclusion of her real troubles.

I detest the name Jack as a character in novels because it's WAY-THE HELL over used as your heroic bad-boy type, and its time authors started to use their imagination and come up with a new name instead of jack-ing off every time. I flatly refuse to read any novel where the main character is named Jack and I'm moving speedily towards avoiding novels which have any character named Jack unless it's a very minor one.

Despite having some seriously harrowing episodes, Mia fails to visit the amiable doctor who saw her in the hospital. She fails to report things to the police until she's pretty much forced to. She fails to see what a complete dick her boyfriend Piers is, until he forces her to see it. When she reviews her financial records, Mia discovers she's fabulously wealthy, yet never once do we see any indication that she gave anything to charity, not even simply for tax purposes. Instead she's evidently squandered the money on clothes. This tells me only how disgustingly shallow and selfish she is, which actually explains a lot about her behavior after her accident. The truth is that Mia never left the sea. She's still metaphorically being buffeted around, just as she was before she beached! It's sad.

In short I came to really dislike and then quickly to detest Mia, and I lost all empathy with, and sympathy for her as her behavior continued to descend into the moronic. I gave up on this at about eighty percent in because I couldn't stand to read any more of this woman careering down the track towards a train wreck. I wish the author all the best with her writing career, but based on this, I cannot in good faith say it's one I want to follow.


No comments:

Post a Comment

Please keep comments respectful and polite; trolling, abusive, and hateful comments will be deleted summarily. Constructive criticism, insightful contributions, and humorous observations are always welcome!

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.