The secrets at Ocean's Edge by Kali Napier
Hachette, 2018. ISBN 9780733637919
This book is gripping from the first words to the end. Releasing only as much information as we need to know, Napier keeps us hanging, knowing, like her characters do, only some of the details. Who is the mother of the 'adopted' daughter, who do they see themselves as in their relationships, and why are there tensions between families and other residents of this seaside town in Western Australia? These questions dominate this narrative set in the 1930s in Western Australia. Napier slowly releases some answers, often by inference and rarely do we get more, although we are challenged to build up our own understanding of what has happened and to whom. Ironically, it is as if this enigmatic story reflects the lack of answers experienced by almost all of the characters. Napier positions us in much the same way, tortured by our need to know and understand the facts and to grasp why each character responds in the manner in which they do.
Essentially this is the story of one family whose complex relationships are rarely revealed and for whom the secrets form their story. Keeping these is seen as the key to success, especially when falling wheat prices and simple bad luck force the main family to seek their fortunes away from the farm. Beginning a new life at a seaside town, setting up a summer guest house and establishing themselves as worthy people, challenges them, and their extended family, to be acceptable members of the local area, the golf club, the local school, the women's groups and the town.
Little by little we gain a greater understanding of the motivation and behaviour of each character as Napier implies reasons, suggests motivation, and allows us to intuit what might be truth. For truth is very much in question, her implication being that we write our own stories through what we tell, letting others know only what we would wish them to know so that we keep ourselves intact, our 'stories' acceptable as truth, and the darker sides of our stories so often hidden. Tension and confusion underlie this narrative, and we are drawn into the lives of the protagonists deeply through bearing this tension as they do, whether it is to tell the truth, conceal the darker secrets, or to reveal just enough to explain their behaviour. It is very hard to put this book down.