My view on: THE SHORE by Sara Taylor

EDIT: I’ve decided to stop calling these ‘reviews’. I’m not trying to be a professional reviewer, and just want to share my views on books I’ve read recently, uninformed by any real critical depth. I’m equally not trying to be particularly balanced, just going on my reader reaction. SO from now on I’ll be calling them ‘Views’ and removing ratings. I’ve edited the two views I’ve done so far accordingly. View is a funny word, isn’t it? View view view.
I started writing my next view, and realised that this blog may turn sycophantic rather quickly if I focused SOLELY on books that absolutely worked for me (of which there were many in 2015).
Equally, I’m (perhaps overly) cautious of writing ‘bad’ views, because having had a couple myself I realise the impact they can have on a writer even if they’re not by a renowned reviewer, or published in a major newspaper. So I’ve decided to only write about books I didn’t enjoy if I can pinpoint exactly why, rather than launch into a blistering polemic of generalised rage. Even if no one’s reading, it just wouldn’t feel right.
Which brings me to one of the big disappointments of 2015 for me, a book that generally has been incredibly well-received (Eimear McBride loved it!)
Title: The Shore
Author: Sara Taylor
Publisher: William Heinemann
Publication date: 19th March 2015
Cover design: Suzanne Dean
Welcome to The Shore: a collection of small islands sticking out from the coast of Virginia into the Atlantic Ocean. Where clumps of evergreens meet wild ponies, oyster-shell roads, tumble-down houses, unwanted pregnancies, murder, storm-making and dark magic in the marshes. . .
Situated off the coast of Virginia’s Chesapeake Bay, the group of islands known as the Shore has been home to generations of fierce and resilient women. Sanctuary to some but nightmare to others, it’s a place they’ve inhabited, fled, and returned to for hundreds of years. From a half-Shawnee Indian’s bold choice to flee an abusive home only to find herself with a man who will one day try to kill her to a brave young girl’s determination to protect her younger sister as methamphetamine ravages their family, to a lesson in summoning storm clouds to help end a drought, these women struggle against domestic violence, savage wilderness, and the corrosive effects of poverty and addiction to secure a sense of well-being for themselves and for those they love.
MY VIEW: On the surface, this book had everything I love. It’s by a young, debut writer. It’s a novel-in-parts, a medium that combines the focussed beauty and intensity of a short story with the plot and building continuity of a novel. It’s set on a group of islands (islands are a literary weakness of mine). It follows families through a large span of time (my favourite novel is One Hundred Years of Solitude). And the cover is gorgeous. So maybe it was a victim of my high expectations, but this book left me by turns cold and angry.
Firstly, the cold. For a book whose constant is the setting, I was left with very little sense of place. I knew geographically where the action was happening, and I knew that it was a landscape inextricably linked to the characters (in my favourite story, the weather is controlled by one), but in terms of actually believing and ‘feeling’ the setting, it just didn’t happen. I also feel that Taylor was a victim of her own ambition – the stories at times veered into a wackiness that sat uncomfortably with the overall tone of the book and failed to ignite my imagination.
Which brings me to the anger, because the overall tone of the book was dominated by violence. Now, I have nothing against this – I love HANNIBAL and AMERICAN PSYCHO, books that are supremely violent and supremely good. I find books with ‘taboo’ subjects, like LOLITA and its contemporary homage, TAMPA, disturbing and brilliant. I have no trouble with reading as much torture, rape, abuse and general misery a book needs so long as it’s earned. So long as it doesn’t feel like a ‘device’. And honestly, this book felt like someone trying to shock, but without any real commitment to, or interest in exploring, the complexities such violence brings with it. By the end, I felt sort of numb to the sexual abuses because there had been so much of it. It was repetitive, and of course these things do repeat themselves in cycles, but for me the book just did not get to grips with the depths behind that, nor how it impacts individuals.
Taylor can write beautifully, startlingly, concisely, but there was a sometimes predictable use of language and a ‘cool’ that can sometimes emerge from imitation over invention – I found little of the heat of say, Evie Wyld or Sarah Hall here. But all this said, I would read her second book – she is clearly talented and I’m interested to see what she does next. THE SHORE just did not do it for me.
FAVOURITE CHARACTER: Chloe. The only character who really stayed with me to be honest. There was a tenderness and investment in her story that was absent elsewhere.