Author: James Macmanus
Release date: April 2010
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Target audience: Adult
Summary from Amazon:
Have you ever wanted to just leave everything and disappear? Can the instinct for survival overcome almost anything!? Leo Kemp's life should be idyllic. He has a job that he loves at the Institute of Marine Biology and he lives in Cape Cod with his wife and daughter. But beneath the tranquil surface of their lives, heartbreak lingers; a few years ago their son was drowned in an accident at sea and the family cannot come to terms with his death. When Leo loses his job thanks to his outspoken views, he decides to go on one last field trip with his students. But the outing turns to tragedy when the sea rises up and Leo is thrown overboard. Despite everyone's best efforts, Leo is missing, presumed dead; lost at sea just like his son. The aftermath of the tragedy hits the community hard. But, amidst the grief, rumours that a man has been sighted living on an uninhabited island a few miles off shore begin to circulate. Could there be hope yet!?
On the Broken Shore is an intriguing story of family, loss, grief and obsession. Leo Kemp is an Austrailian living in Cape Cod with his wife Margot and his daughter Sam. He and his family are still trying to come to terms with the death of his son. Both Margot and Leo are stuggling with the guilt surrounding the circumstances of their son's death. Leo should never have taken him out on the water. Margot should have stopped him. Their daughter Sam is living with two parents who are strangers to each other. Leo is absorbed to the point of obsession with his research into sea mammals - particularly seals. Margot is burying her grief in her drinking and her illicit liasons with a local fisherman.
When I was reading this story, I felt like it was almost a retrospective look at one man's life. A character study of a man who was intelligent, passionate and charismatic. His students adore him. His wife was completely besotted by him when they first met. His daughter wants his undivided love and attention. Whether it is his success that drives him further and further into his work or his grief at losing his son is open to interpretation. But his obsession with saving the seals of Cape Cod and the surrounding areas eventually leads to his dismissal from the Institute who employ him also as a teacher. Leo is not the sort of man to give up easily. He decides to take his students out on the field trip he promised them and after a freak tsumani, he is thrown overboard. The coastguard and local fishermen search for Leo or at least his body but when it doesn't turn up, his best friend begins to believe in the impossible. Could Leo have become the sea mammal that he dreamed of in his childhood?
The narrative in this story is gripping and like the sea itself compels you to throw yourself in at the deep end. Leo is an enigma which I hadn't really solved even at the end of the novel. Sometimes I felt the pull of the novel was weakened by the use of excessive detail. As the reader we learn much about the life of sea mammals and the communication of seals, the regulations governing fishing in the area and in the wider world. I am left wondering how much we really needed to know. Was it important to know these things to get to the heart of Leo's obsession? Perhaps. For in my mind it was obsession not grief that drove Leo to make the choices that he did. I think he was a very selfish character who wanted to be a better man than he was. Others will say that Margot was the selfish one. It is obvious that she could not forgive Leo for what happened to their son.
Overall, I enjoyed this story. It conjured the sea, the waves, the mesmerising depth of the ocean and all its mysteries. It told a story full of loss and guilt which was engrossing. At times a little slow perhaps but none the less an intricate tale which would be a great beach read for the summer.
Thank you to Harpercollins for providing copies of On the Broken Shore for my staff book group.