by Kirsty Eagar
“But there the night is close, and there
Darkness is cold and strange and bare;
And the secret deeps are whisperless; ..and music is
The exquisite knocking of the blood…”
The Fish, Rupert Brooke (1911)
Night Beach is an intense, evocative novel that explores the shadowy recesses and dark corners of the mind that birth, feed and foster art and obsession. It’s an unsettling story, delving into unchartered spaces of the consciousness, a story that balances precariously between the real and the unreal. Eagar takes those shades between light and darkness, between solid and intangible, and distils from it a novel that beautifully crystalises the mercurial nature of creativity, and the mental torment of fixation.
As with her debut Raw Blue, Eagar’s writing is at once both familiar and striking. She writes about Australian surf culture and life with the apparent ease of experience, her prose interwoven with vivid imagery. And in Night Beach, a novel that deals explicitly with the subject of art and the processes that stimulate it, Eagar uses her distinct lyricism to powerful, often startling effect.
Eager has referred to her third novel as “sea-gothic”, and it’s a fitting term. Night Beach opens in a seemingly standard contemporary structure, with a slightly chilling tone leaching through, hinting at the disquieting depths that lie beneath. It’s a book that blurs the lines between genres, merging realistic, romanticism and horror elements into something of a hybrid. Unusual and disturbing, this is a story that spurns simple categorisation, and leaves itself open to varied reader interpretations.
What I love about Kristy Eagar’s novels is that she’s unafraid to create complex, vulnerable, occasionally unsympathetic characters. Often subverting reader expectations, Eagar’s stories are woven around people who are damaged, in pain, or lead fractured lives. Both Abbie and Kane are excellent examples of this – Abbie as the intuitive, achingly raw protagonist, and Kane, the flawed object of her obsession and catalyst for her descent into the unknown.
Eagar presents these characters in such a manner that the reader is never quite on steady ground with them. She provides glimpses of optimism and gentleness, only to also reveal the sinister, destructive elements that taint the characters’ interactions and punctuation their relationship.
In a similar way, the depiction of surf culture in Night Beach is unapologetic and sharply observant of the deep-rooted systems of hierarchy and aggression that exist in the surf community. This is not to say that this is the prevailing attitude Australia-wide – but a patriarchal, possessive culture does exist in places – and Eagar boldly nails it. There’s a nebulous undercurrent of threat that tempers Eagar’s descriptions of the beauty of the beach and Abbie’s love of surfing – a subtle suggestion that there’s more than one way to see things.
This is a creepy, strange novel, with Abbie navigating the uncertainties of her own life as well as the shadows that seem to emanate from Kane. Reader mileage for scariness will vary, but I’ll freely admit that I had to put my Kindle down at one stage and walk away, thoroughly freaked out. It’s definitely a psychologically intense novel, one that pulls the nerves tight and anchors attention to the page. While a considerable amount of the story depends upon the power of suggestion, leaving space for the reader to speculate – and Abbie’s viewpoint lists to the introspective end of the scale – it’s not a slow book. The darkness keeps it compelling, and Eagar ups the ante as the scenes move from haunting to disturbing.
However – and here lies my highly subjective issue – the plot moves into a realm in which I did not wish to follow. Without spoiling, I can only say that once the answers became clearer, the story began to lose me. It makes sense, it fits together, the mystery plays out well – but I much preferred the ambiguous, unstable nature of the story before it was explained. To me, the story felt stronger for the unreliability it built around Abbie. That said, I doubt many will agree with me – and that’s a good thing.
In the end, the strongest element of this story for me is Abbie’s metamorphosis– and the person she becomes – as she emerges from this dark and strangely beautiful book.
Rated 4 out of 5 stars
Release Date: May 2012
An advance copy was provided by the publisher for this review.
Night Beach is an Australian YA novel, and may be ordered through Fishpond.com