Sea Wife by Amity Gaige

Sea Wife by Amity Gaige (2020) is a transporting read, following a young family who are sailing off on an adventure from Panama. In a time when all of our travel is curtailed, it was delightful to read about warm breezes, clear blue water and colorful foreign marketplaces. The story is told in two voices. Juliet, the wife, is the main narrator. Michael, the husband, is heard via his captain’s log. For me, however, the two voices were so similar in tone, I did not find this technique super helpful. But I read on and was soon entranced with the story. The couple, at the husband’s suggestion, leaves suburbia behind with two young children, ages 7 and 2, in tow. Troubles follow. Financial troubles, boat troubles, weather troubles and marital troubles too. There is a mystery as to what happens that keeps the reader acutely interested until the very end.

The NYT has recently started a book club called “Group Chat.” Readers can follow along from anywhere. Group Chat chose this book and their discussion questions can be found here. The novel reminded me of the real-life story of a family rescued at sea a few years back and the intense public interest in the family’s decision to take young children to sea. Families do indeed choose this wandering lifestyle. I read, with a touch of envy, the Zartman family blog about their cruising lifestyle and I am sure you will too.

Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan

Exciting Times (2020) by Naoise Dolan, a young Irish writer’s debut novel, is about an Irish millennial expat, Ava, in Hong Kong and the complicated relationships she soon finds herself in with a British banker and a Chinese lawyer. Neither of the romantic relationships in the book resonated with me perhaps because they were so clearly disconnected from the real world. The characters weren’t worried so much about rent or bills. Hong Kong is a wealthy city and the disregard of money was odd. The banker let Ava, the millennial, stay in his flat rent-free. Neither the banker or Ava was bothered by this but I was. Still, however, I liked Ava and laughed at all of her jokes. As did the banker. Ava texted “are you missing the marxist invective or” and he replied “Home is where there’s a small Irish person calling for you to be guillotined.” (p. 240) The writing is crisp and clean. The humor is both droll and political. I had to try to keep up with the slightly dated Brexit jokes but I wanted to keep up.

I was particularly caught up in the Hong Kong setting as I lived there for five years and loved it all. When the author casually mentioned a coffee chain there or a grocery story or the mid-levels outside escalator, I cheered. Hong Kong has been in the news recently with the democracy protests, China’s imposition of the new security law and of course for covid. Enjoy these recent photos of Hong Kong. Readers who enjoyed Normal People or Trust Exercise would likely want to read this as well.

Normal People by Sally Rooney

Sally Rooney’s second novel Normal People (2018) surprised me. I enjoyed it much more than I thought I would. I thought it would be a teenage romance story and it was. (I passed it to teenagers at my house and they read it in a single seating.) But it was more than that. Somehow Rooney really drills down to the essence of the relationship between Marianne and Connell, two Irish young adults, with her precise clean prose. It is a short book with concise sentences but it says a lot about relationships, not just young ones. The central relationship starts in high school, where Connell is the popular athlete and Marianne is the odd kid with no friends. But she is wealthy. Connell’s mother cleans Marianne’s house. Their roles are reversed at Trinity College in Dublin, where she is urbane and magnetic and he struggles to find his way. The novel follows their on and off relationship through college. While their romance is definitely seen via social class, there is more there. Both Marianne and Connell are lonely and that is one of the forces that keeps them in each other’s orbits.

Rooney is a young up and coming writer, highlighted in this New Yorker article. Her fresh take on all things from Brexit to relationships is fun to read. This book was recently made into a TV series by the BBC, released in late April on Hulu. The TV series follows the book very closely. There is talk of a second series of Normal People which gives me hope that there is another book too! Rooney reminds me of Naoise Dolan, another young Irish writer coming at her subjects via a Marxist yet millennial lens. I will review Dolan’s novel Exciting Times next.