A Siren Call to Remember – A Review of Christine Dibley’s ‘To The Sea’

I have often shied away from novels set in Australia, largely because most of the Australian novels I was forced to read in high school were ‘bush books’, books that pigeon-holed Australian stories as tales that were dependant on outback settings and dry bushland. Whilst so many Australian stories are set in these places, these have never been the stories I have been able to feel connected to – my Australia has always been a coastal Australia, about cities bordered by the sea. Christine Dibley’s To The Sea is perhaps one of the first Australian novels set in Australia that I have truly felt at home in. Whilst I have never been to Tasmania, where this novel is set, the feeling of being so close to the sea and the city felt like home.

To The Sea follows the stories of four different people caught up in the disappearance of seventeen year old Zoe Kennett, a young girl from a well-to-do family, and the most recent in a long line of women who share a strange secret originating in Ireland. From the perspectives of her father John, her mother Eva, her sister Sadie and DI Tony Vincent, we get a strange mystery that brings the worlds of small town crime and Irish folklore crashing together.

I first read about the mythological Selchies (or Selkies) in a book picked up from a primary school book fair years ago, and I instantly fell in love with the myth of these transformative people, shifting between human and seal form. Whilst this might sound strange to those unfamiliar with the myths, I love that the folklore surrounding Selchies is so removed from the popular myths that are brought to life in film and TV. For me, Selchie folklore is linked almost exclusively to literature, and that is part of their magic.

But To The Sea does something more than just play into my love of Selchie folklore. By centring the novel so much on the power of mother-daughter storytelling and sharing, To The Sea reminded me of all the times I have spent sharing stories and personal histories with the women in my family. Much like my own family, the women of this book are linked by storytelling and sharing memories, and I love the power that this gives the women in this book. The women of this book are not only physically strong, being able to swim long distances and survive incredibly survivable events and conditions, but they are also granted an emotional strength that endures all the worst possible things. This book shows these women dealing with incredible loss, heartbreaking choices between love and family, mental illness and being labelled as crazy because of belief in a folklore that has been passed down through generations.

On a completely different note, I loved getting to read this novel at the time I did. The plot takes place in the days between Christmas and New Year, and I was fortunate enough to read it in the days between Christmas and New Year in 2016, completely by chance. Whilst this is not the only way to read this book, I recommend re-reading it later in the year to get the same feeling that the story weaves around this time (especially if you have a large family – you’ll understand when you read the book). The cover has also been beautifully designed, with the most beautiful colours that just seem to bring this story to life even further.

There is something enchanting about this book, about the way it discusses the power of storytelling, and the way it portrays women as the people who pass down power between generations. Christine Dibley has achieved something incredible with her debut novel and I look forward to seeing what else she can accomplish with her work in the future.

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To The Sea by Christine Dibley is published by Pan Macmillan Australia and is now available at all good bookstores. As always, INWORDSANDINK encourages its readers to buy from and support local independent bookstores.

Thanks to the lovely Clare over at Pan Macmillan for sending me a copy of To The Sea for review and inviting me to participate in this blog tour. Whilst I was sent a copy for review, I was not paid or financially obligated to write this review.

 

© Hayley New 2017

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