Into the Sea
Salty Studios Pty Ltd (Self Published)
It's a pretty exciting time to be a writer.
We have unlimited (seems so, anyway) resources available to us, and it's no longer a huge taboo to self publish a novel. People do this for a number of reasons, but I think probably the best reason is because, as Cyril Conolly said, it is "Better to write for your self and have no public, than write for the public and have no self." That's not to say that Jay Laurie has found himself without a public. In fact, if you look at his website, you'll see that the opposite is true.
But I haven't come to tell you about self publishing, my thoughts on it or otherwise; I've come to review Jay Laurie's book, Into the Sea which fell into my hands almost by accident. I would like to start by thanking Jay's wife Phoebe for the opportunity to do this.
From the Blurb
"Will is a small kid bleached by the ocean. He surfs. Riley's bigger, bites his nails and pretends he does too. They roam their beachside suburb, nose drip over their first surf magazine and start to dream of far off places. Suddenly, out of a heatwave, a fire erupts to take more than their bushland.
Years later, an old car pants across the desert. Living in the dust and cold salt water, amongst a melting pot of passing travellers and violent locals, Riley forgets a girl he thought he knew and Will's drug addiction gives way to a blindness to life beyond the sea which may prove to be even more destructive.
Will leaves everything and heads for tropical islands. A phone call, a postcard, then nothing. Eventually Riley sets out to try and track him down and, travelling deep into the islands, starts to learn things he never knew he should."
Books about Western Australia, especially ones dripping with nostalgia, are my cup of tea. I love Tim Winton, I love Robert Drewe, and once upon a time I kidded myself that I would be able to learn to surf even though sometimes I lose my balance just by walking. Seriously, I used to ride my old skateboard by sitting on it.
Reading Into the Sea is like fusing your own childhood memories with someone else's and claiming them. As the blurb says, it is vivid, raw and evocative. I agree on all three counts. The novel is vivid because Laurie's attention to detail takes you there, takes you to the dunes, to the desert, and to Indonesia. It's raw because sometimes things happen that aren't so nice and maybe you don't want to think about. And it's evocative because you can smell the Streets Cornetto dripping on your sunscreen that first summer you were allowed to swim in the ocean by yourself.
The real strength of this novel lies in the big ideas that it is trying to get across. Sometimes these come in waves. (Haha, made a funny. Unintentional, I swear.) From the way that surfing can be linked to a kind of deathwish recklessness, to the way that human passion and connection is as fluid as the ocean, to the value of friendship, and the beauty of just dropping out of society. This novel is deep.
My favourite part of the book is the final part, in which Riley goes to Indonesia to find Will after he disappears. This section of the book almost had a Heart of Darkness quality to it, and the reader was with Riley as he travelled deeper into the jungle, not knowing what, if anything he would find. This part of the story had a pace and structure that maybe the other parts lacked, and smacked of a classic adventure story. One thing that really bugged me about the Indonesian scenes was the lack of translation for us not multilingual, but Laurie would not be the first author to do this to me.
Maybe I missed it, but I didn't see much evidence of Will's drug addiction, and I didn't feel like Riley was trying to escape an old heartbreak, though I do remember them mentioning it. At times, I found these characters to be two sides of the same coin, sometimes a bit too similar to handle, especially when dialogue was handled in a Winton-esque fashion, i.e. no speech marks or markers. There was one scene in which something awful was happening to one character out at sea and I thought it was Riley, but it was Will. It was difficult to tell which character was supposed to be the protagonist at times.
I absolutely inhaled this novel, read it in a few days on lunch breaks and in the car before work. The writer in me wanted to restructure it but the reader in me enjoyed sitting back and letting Laurie's prose wash over me and take me on a trip down memory lane. I'm desperate to go back to Indonesia now. And maybe to learn to actually stand up on a surfboard.
Don't lump this in with your easy dismissal of self published novels, give it a chance. You will be surprised.