Book Review for “Tides” by Sara Freeman.
Summary: “After a sudden, devastating loss, Mara flees her family and ends up adrift in a wealthy coastal town. Mired in her grief, Mara’s first few days are spent alone, surviving on what scraps of food she can find, and swimming at night in the ocean. When her money runs out and the tourist season comes to a close, Mara finds a job in a local wine store and meets its owner, Simon, a man whose loneliness she immediately recognises as a mirror to her own. As Mara dances around her growing attraction to Simon, she is forced to reckon with both her present desires and her past errors, and with the compulsion she feels to both make and unmake herself.”
Age: Adult; Genres: Literary, Women, Fiction; Settings: Contemporary, Canada/USA (?) – Fictional Boarder Town; Other Categories: Novel, Debut Novel, Coming-of-Age.
I noticed that on Amazon they called this novel “a spare, visceral debut” and I have to say that I agree totally with the bit about it being spare. In fact, quite a whole lot of this book feels telegraphic, with very short sentences, many that aren’t grammatically complete. Furthermore, people who dislike books where there’s no distinction between the narrative and the dialogue (meaning no quotation marks, or italics, etc.), will have a very hard time with this novel. On the other hand, when done well, I’ve found that I can instinctively differentiate between what is going on and what is being said – at least for the most part. Yes, sometimes I have to reread a line or two to fully understand what is being spoken and what is not, but it didn’t distract me from following the story. Thankfully, the book isn’t totally devoid of punctuation.
Regarding this book being visceral, I guess, under the strictest definition of the word, this is also pretty accurate. But for me, something visceral needs to punch me in the gut, and Freeman’s style is far more ephemeral and translucent to be so hard hitting. I’m not sure if Freeman would see her book being described as visceral as a compliment. In fact, I got the distinct impression that Freeman wanted Mara’s story to touch the readers more gently, but with an overall lasting effect. You know, like drips of water wearing away at a stone, until it makes an impression – soft and seemingly harmless, yet ultimately, discreetly pervasive. I hope that makes sense, but that’s not really visceral for me, although it is no less effective.
One of the things that I was a bit unsure of was the ages of the main characters. I initially thought that Mara is was her 20s or early 30s (although we later find out she’s 37), and yet there were times when she felt like a teenager in the book. Plus, the way Freeman writes Simon, I thought he was in his 70s or 80s. However, that didn’t make sense, considering several factors about his life that we learn slowly, throughout the book. Now I was guessing that he was in his 30s or 40s (and the latter was correct, without the plural) at the most, but he felt much older through the descriptions of him that Mara observes. It could also be that Mara looked upon him as someone far more mature than she, but that wasn’t clear to me. I did like how their relationship slowly grew from being employer and employee, to something closer, but the problem with how old they’re presented did confuse me, and it made me slightly uncomfortable. (Sure, May-December relationships happen, but they’re not always palatable.)
In fact, the further you get into this book, the more uncomfortable you might feel. To begin with, and through most of the story, I really felt for Mara, and I appreciated Simon. But neither of them is perfect, and the more we find out about them, the more Freeman uncovers their flaws. The question is, does Freeman draw them so that we appreciate them for their defects, or do our opinions of them change? I’m not going to answer that question, since if I do, it might be a spoiler. Therefore, I’m going to recommend this novel to people who enjoy prose that is poetic and evocative, and don’t mind a type of stream of consciousness type of narration. With that, I think the most appropriate rating I can give this book is four and a half stars out of five (which is a very good rating for a debut novel. And yes, I will be watching out for more from Freeman in the future).
Grove Press (Grove Atlantic) released “Tides” by Sara Freeman on January 16, 2022 (although some sites say the 18th and others the 20th). This book is available (via the following affiliate links) from Amazon, The Book Depository UK and Book Depository US (free worldwide delivery), Foyles, Waterstones, WHSmith, Wordery UK and Wordery US, Walmart (Kobo) US (eBooks and audiobooks), the website eBooks.com, Booksamillion.com, iTunes (iBooks and audiobooks), new or used from Alibris, used from Better World Books (promoting libraries and world literary), as well as from as well as from Bookshop.org and UK.Bookshop (to support independent bookshops, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic) or an IndieBound store near you. I would like to thank the publishers for sending me an ARC of this novel via Edelweiss.
This novel qualifies for the following reading challenges: New Release Challenge (#2).