The Sea Change by Joanna Rossiter

6 June, 2013

Sea Change

The earth has run its fingers all over the church. Clots of moss bloom in green seas on the roof. Ivy has prised open windows and doors and clawed at the fissures in the stonework. Nesting birds leap up at the smallest of movements – mistaking every sound for a bullet. As I step into the porch, they splash through the glassless windows and ghost through the air above the nave. So immersed is the stone in creepers and lichen that it is as if the church is Nature’s own creation; born from the ground like a new breed of tree.

Joanna Rossiter’s debut novel, The Sea Change, is a lush, melancholic tale of Imber, an abandoned village in Wiltshire, and a family fractured irretrievable by the events of WWII.

The sudden forced exile of the Fieldings from their beloved home and parsonage spells a larger doom whose roots can be traced back to petty jealousy and squabbles that lie in the centre of all close knit and loving families. But the Fieldings are held together by the solid, reassuring kindness of the father, the village vicar, who is the cornerstone of his wife Martha and daughters Freda and Violet’s lives. But with his death and the military order to evacuate Imber, which has been allocated to the Americans for training purposes, Freda, the eldest daughter, runs away to London to become a nurse, unable to cope with their loss. Violet struggles to make a new home with her mother and the only thing keeping her together is the proximity of Pete, the farm labourer whom she has known as a child and has grown so strongly to love. But Pete is footloose and won’t be tied down and still waters run deep. When Violet’s mother strikes a friendship with Sam, an American officer, words are uttered that will forever change the course of all their lives.

In parallel to Violet’s story is that of Alice, her daughter, who is eager to keep her mother and step-father at arm’s length and is traveling along the hippy trail in 1971 ending up in South India just as a devastating tsunami sweeps across the coast carrying away her new husband, James. As Alice frantically searches for James, she has to confront her conflicted feelings for him and her mother as she receives a final letter which unlocks the secret Violet has carried all these years.

For an emerging writer, Rossiter’s voice is strong, assured and, above all, beautiful. The images she captures so effortlessly, the uneasy building of tension as the novel progresses, the slow peeling back of secrets are expertly done. There is something faultless and joyous about her use of language; abundant, pulsing and vivid. And it grips you to the pain and sorrows of her characters, so desperate to find happiness but unable to articulate how they truly feel. There were shadows of Ian McEwan’s Atonement with its sense of guilt and jealousy mixed in with Alan Bradley’s Flavia de Luce series with its destructive sibling rivalry that could ignite at any moment. But The Sea Change belongs completely to Rossiter, from Violet’s fragile romance with Pete to the ever-present threat of Freda and Martha’s resignation to love and honour her dead husband.

Although I could understand Martha and Violet and, to a lesser degree, Freda, I struggled with Alice’s struggles even though I could see that growing up without her real father and slowly uncovering the secret of his disappearance would affect her relationship with Violet, who kept everything under wraps. The sections about Alice and James felt weaker but that is probably because there is another character that looms large in Rossiter’s tale and that is of their village, Imber. From what was once a lively country village to an empty, hollow husk, it mirrors more than anything the destruction of a community and family.

Rossiter does a wonderful job with The Sea Change and I cannot wait to see what she will produce next. I loved her writing style, her use of language and the pace of plot. Almost perfect.

I would have loved it if the publisher had kept the other cover instead of the one pictured above which kind of slots it into a certain category which will probably exclude a lot of male readers and in which you would never see Ian McEwan but that’s just me being a grumble.

I would like to thank Penguin Books who kindly sent me a copy of The Sea Change to review. And do check out 10 myths about authors explored by Joanna Rossiter on the Penguin blog.

2 Responses to “The Sea Change by Joanna Rossiter”

  1. Mystica Says:

    Sounds really good and I do agree about the covers. It does influence readers however trite it may sound.

    • sakura Says:

      Sometimes my choice of book is entirely due to the cover too – it’s the first thing that makes me notice a book I’ve never heard of before.

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