Richard and Judy Book Club choices rarely disappoint – I don’t always enjoy them all, but they usually draw my attention to some writers and books I might not otherwise have discovered. When the 2013 Summer Reads were announced, I found I’d already read three of them. One I really loved, in my top ten of 2012, and I’m delighted its selection will inevitably bring it to wider attention – The Light Between Oceans by M L Stedman. The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker was highly original but I found it a little bit of a let-down in the telling: Tigers in Red Weather by Liza Klaussmann wasn’t entirely my cup of tea, but I could appreciate the writing, and the sizzling and claustrophobic setting.
Looking at the rest of the list, the synopsis of The Sea Sisters by Lucy Clarke attracted me straight away. Katie is the sister with a conventional life, secure job and fiancé, the one who always does the right thing. Mia floats through life – no responsibility, no direction. Mia sets off to travel the world with her friend Finn, contacting Katie very rarely, until a phone call where both say things they shouldn’t have – then Katie hears that Mia has died in Bali, apparently by committing suicide. Guided by Mia’s travel journal, Katie decides to follow in Mia’s footsteps to try and make some sense of her untimely death, and to assuage her guilt about their last conversation.
This is a really well constructed book and an absorbing and well-told story. We hear the stories of Mia and Katie’s journeys in alternate chapters – not just their physical journey, but their growing understanding of each other, and some of the history of their relationship and the reasons for their being as they are. The journey’s an emotional one, and I was totally absorbed by it – a wonderful examination of the bonds, fractures and emotions between sisters. As the story emerges, different family dynamics emerge around a story of brothers. The journal Katie follows is almost a character in its own right – a wonderful device for shaping the story. The settings are vividly described – you feel them as well as see them – from Cornwall to California, Maui, Australia and Bali.
An easy read in some ways, a difficult one in others, this is a book that grabs you by the heart – very emotional, it moves you to tears at times, and twists and turns in a way that keeps you thoroughly hooked. An incredibly accomplished first novel, and I’m looking forward already to Lucy Clarke’s next one.