‘Where does a mistake begin?’ Juliet Partlow asks at the beginning of Amity Gaige’s novel, Sea Wife. ‘… Did my mistake begin with the boat? Or my marriage itself?’ And from that very first page, we know that something terrible has happened.

The Partlows are a normal couple, living in the suburbs, with their two young children and yet all is not what it seems, the face they present to the world at odds with what’s going on behind. It’s this thread that runs through Sea Wife, the relationship, conflict even, between the inner and outer worlds, our inner and outer selves.

Michael is a restless dreamer, trapped in a dull job, and Juliet, a stay-at-home mother, who abandoned her dissertation on the poet Anne Sexton; both are unfulfilled, their marriage in a hiatus. When Michael buys a boat, which he renames Juliet, he persuades his wife, against her better judgement, to take to the seas for a year with their young family. It’s ‘insane’, as Juliet comments. She’s never sailed before and Michael hasn’t since college, but she gives in, as a final act of loyalty to him.

What happens during that voyage is revealed through their narratives, Juliet in the present day, looking back on the voyage, her musings intercut with Michael’s captain’s log, more journal really. Like their marriage, politics, mores even, Juliet and Michael’s voices are at odds with each other; they duel, bisect, interweave, giving us insights into the voyage, yes, but also into their lives, their relationship, their world.

Juliet’s passages are lyrical, full of remorse, reflection, beautiful description, yet coloured by her depression, Michael’s log, in contrast, is more immediate, fast-paced, while also referencing his past, particularly his late father, who died when he was roughly the same age as Michael. Both have unresolved issues that come to the fore during the voyage.

Sea Wife is a compelling novel, focusing on the intricacies of relationships, here stripped back to the bone through the isolation, stresses and realities of day-to-day life at sea. It’s tightly written and well-paced. Highly recommended.


 Amity Gaige | Sea Wife | hardback | Fleet | £16.99 | 2 July 2020

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Acknowledgements: Quoted book text © Amity Gaige 2020. Many thanks to Grace Vincent, Deputy Publicity Director, Literary, at Little, Brown, for inviting us aned to the publisher for the review copy. All opinions are our own. All rights reserved.

See also:Amanda Craig’s homage to Highsmith‘; ‘Chris Whitaker’s small-town America’; ‘Nora Roberts’ Sanctuary: an Old Familiar’; Carver’s Nothing Important Happened Today’; By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept’; ‘Yvonne Battle-Fenton’s Remembered‘; ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised‘; ‘We should all be feminists‘; The not-so-invisible woman: 150 greats in their own words’; ‘How Penguin learned to fly – Allen Lane and the Original “Penguin Ten”‘; Dorothy L. Sayer’s Busman’s Holiday – Romek Marber for Penguin Crime (book covers we love).

Also of interest: Night Mail (1936), changing the face of British film; A Colour Box by Len Lye (1935); Hitchcock (2012); The Splendour of George Stevens’ Giant (1956). Hitchcock (2012).

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