Saying I love the ocean is almost an understatement. Growing up on the coast of Australia my childhood memories are made up of beachside moments; drawing pink zink across my nose, getting stung by blue bottles, rolling in the sand, my sweaty legs sticking to the seats of my dad’s old Kombi, the smell of coconut surfboard wax, and the feeling of wading out into the bay to buy a Calippo from the ice cream boat. Being away from it makes me feel homesick. Luckily though I can transport myself back there with these novels – all written by Aussies and capturing the beauty and hostility of their most important character, the ocean.
#1 Sea Hearts (also published as The Brides of Rollrock Island) by Margot Lanagan
Drawn from their seal bodies by the sea witch, Misskaella, the beautiful selkie brides of Rollrock are held captive on land by their husbands. Pining for the ocean, the sea wives wrap themselves in blankets knitted from seaweed and take comfort from their sons who begin to realise things can not go on as they are. As with all Lanagan’s tales the audience is faced with the truth of life as she explores what people will do for – or because of a lack of – love, happiness and belonging.
#2 Breath by Tim Winton
Anyone who grows up near the ocean knows all about being sucked under the waves and not being able to breathe – the exact feeling at the centre of this story. That and asphyxiation for kicks – think the fate of David Carradine.
#3 Past the Shallows by Favel Parrett
Being an only child, tales of sibling connectedness always captivate me and the relationship between the two main characters in this book is as strong as you can get. Their lives are dictated by their father – as unpredictable as the winter ocean he fishes – and indeed by the ocean itself, which gives joy and life but can just as easily take everything away.
#4 Floundering by Romy Ash
From the first moment of this novel, we’re right next to the characters, riding through uniquely Australia terrain in the sticky, back seat of a car “that ‘smells of off orange juice – like a school bag” heading to the West Australian coast. This story makes you feel so salty and sun kissed you’ll truly believe you’ve been staying in a caravan near the beach.
#5 Puberty Blues by Kathy Lette and Gabrielle Carey
An Aussie classic you could mistake for being all about panel vans, Levis, getting wasted and sex – but it’s so much more than that. The story centres around the lives of two girls striving to become surfie chicks (basically groupies of the surfer boys) who have to adhere to ridiculous rules – like not eating in front of the surfers or taking a toilet break – if they want to be assigned boyfriends. Puberty Blues addresses YA themes such as love, sex, drugs and identity as well as the sexism of surf and youth culture in 1970s Australia. While scandalous at the time it has been defended as a feminist work with Germaine Greer calling it a “profoundly moral story”.
Which books take you straight to the ocean? Which stories evoke memories of growing up? Let me know in the comments.