The Sea Change by Joanna Rossiter

Set in lost landscapes, The Sea Change is Joanna Rossiter’s debut novel revolving around a mother and daughter caught up in catastrophic events. The lost landscapes are the village of Imber, a Wiltshire village that was requisitioned by the army during World War Two, where Violet had grown up, and the coastal village of Kanyakumari in Southern India, where her daughter Alice was caught up in the tsunami that devastated the area in 1971.

It’s about lost lives too, wrecked relationships, the isolation of people through their inability to communicate with each other, about love, loss and grief and above all about the relationship between mothers and daughters and sisters.

I enjoyed reading this beautifully written book; I could easily visualise the different landscapes as I read. It begins with drama in the ‘present’ (1971) as the tsunami sweeps through Kanyakumari, separating Alice from her new husband, James and she is in danger of drowning. The story is a dual time novel told alternately by Alice and Violet. After the dramatic opening scenes it then moves immediately to Imber in 1971 as Violet returns to Imber and recalls how they were forced to leave, clinging to Imber ‘as if it were a lost soul.

There are parallels between their stories, both caught up in events outside their control. I was more interested in Violet’s story as she and her mother and sister try to carry on with their lives during the war, mourning the death of her father. And yet Alice’s story is also moving as she desperately searches for James.  Alice and Violet had not parted on good terms when Alice had left home to go on the hippy trail and I liked the way the two stories gradually came together and details of their lives became clearer.

I wrote about the opening paragraphs of this book in this earlier post.

Thanks to Penguin for providing a review copy of this book. I’m sorry to say that it has sat unread apart from the opening pages on my bookshelves since last year when I received it. This is one reason I’m reluctant sometimes to accept review copies – there are so many books clamouring to be read!

Joanna Rossiter has her own website where you can see a YouTube video of her reading from the beginning of the book and talking about her book. I hope she writes more books!

First Chapter First Paragraph: The Sea Change

Every Tuesday Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea hosts First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, to share the first paragraph or (a few) of a book she is reading or thinking about reading soon.

The Sea Change

This week I’m featuring a book that was published in May this year. It is The Sea Change, a debut novel by Joanna Rossiter.

It begins with a Prologue, set in Kanyakumari India, in 1971 where Alice is thousands of miles away from home the day after her wedding:

It is there before we know about it. Being Born. A Persian rug, unrolling. Our wave, heavy like death.

‘Up! Up!’ a voice shouts from outside the guesthouse. It doesn’t belong to James. ‘It’s coming!’

Where is he?

Stone. Bone. think hard and then harder. That’s how it hits the shore. It takes the beach in one breathtaking gulp, palm trees dominoing down and fishing boats scattering as easily as the seeds of a dandelion. Streets fuse into the flesh of the water, like new limbs, new skin, until it morphs into a moving city. Trucks and tuk-tuks roll over and over like shorts in a washer: houses are picked up whole. Then, with sea-soaked hands, the water sets itself alight. flames – blinding and orange – buoy themselves forward on black, black, mirrorless liquid.

I’ve quoted more than the first paragraph because the words drew my eyes on down the page with such dramatic images of the destructive power of the sea and our powerlessness as it sweeps across the landscape. I can visualise it so easily. And where is James?