The Sea Sisters (by Lucy Clarke)

From time to time, I browse various categories of free books for the Kindle, and usually download a handful that are well-reviewed. Some of them turn out to be badly written, or tedious, but sometimes I find one that stands out, one which I would even have been happy to pay something for.

One such recent download was ‘The Sea Sisters’ (apparently also known as ‘Swimming at Night’ in the US), the debut novel of Lucy Clarke. I’d never heard of her, but the Amazon reviews were mostly positive, and it sounded like a good, light read for holidays. I read it while waiting on my own at an airport for some hours, and while it wasnt quite unputdownable, I thought it a good read that held my interest - with breaks.

The story is about two sisters, rather stereotyped perhaps in that Katie (the older one) likes her life to be organised and structured. She feels almost motherly towards the younger Mia, who is much more spontaneous, untidy, and willing to take risks. The story opens - so this is no spoiler - with Katie receiving the terrible news that Mia has been found dead in Bali, in the middle of a backpacking journey.

When Mia’s backpack is returned, Katie finds her journal and decides to read only a tiny portion at a time, in the hope that she can learn more about her sister by travelling in her footprints.

The majority of the novel is quite cleverly written, alternating between Katie’s viewpoint and experiences as she gives up her job and follows where her sister went, and Mia’s own journey that led to her ultimate demise. It could have been rather morbid but manages not to be; it’s a surprisingly lightweight novel, given the subject matter. Katie learns a great deal on her travels although she can’t quite shake off her need for organisation and structure; I’m not sure I quite believed that someone with this personality would take off as she does, and yet it works; grief, after all, can make people do some strange things. More unlikely, it seemed to me, was her insistence of reading only a small section of her sister’s journal at a time. I don’t think I would have been able to resist reading the whole thing.

The ending was rather predictable; the various ‘revelations’ were obvious by the time they were spelled out, and I didn’t find any of the minor characters at all memorable. But still, it was a pleasant way to occupy several otherwise tedious hours, and I hope to read more by this author in future.

No longer free for the Kindle (although the first few chapters can be downloaded as a free sample), this is also available in paperback.

Review by copyright 2014 Sue's Book Reviews

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