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‘We are one of three islands, off the coast of Virginia and just south of Maryland, trailing out into the Atlantic Ocean like someone’s dripped paint’, comments 13-year-old Chloe in the opening story of The Shore, Sara Taylor’s exquisite debut book.

51nJP5QibcL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_The isolated stretch of islands, which lie in Chesapeake Bay, provide a stark setting for the tales of misogyny, patricide, sexual abuse and racism that Taylor weaves so lyrically. Here drugs and murder are commonplace and the inhabitants endure or die.

The protagonists are, for the most part, women – some disempowered, poor and at the mercy of the brutal men around them – their lives revealed through a series of separate but interconnected stories. Yet there is also a strong thread of feminism running through The Shore as female characters make their own choices and reclaim their lives, albeit often through violence.

Rather than follow a set chronology, Taylor chooses to challenge the reader by moving back and forth in time over a period of more than 250 years, suddenly swooping down so that one moment we’re in a barn in 1933, watching Letty with ‘purple shadows’ on her ribs and ‘fingerprints around her wrist, dark ovals like smears of soot’, the next we’re in 1992, accompanying Sally on her visit to her grandpa’s rest home. This is a clever device, allowing the reader to view the same events from different perspectives – that of the characters themselves, their family and friends and also from that of later generations, when they are an accepted part of family myth and local folklore.

This is an outstanding book, one that makes the reader pause and take stock. It is unsettling, challenging and yet beautiful – made all the more so by the author’s pared back language and careful evocation of the land, marshes, oyster beds and crabs, and the miseries and small joys of island life.

It will be interesting to see where Sara Taylor goes from here. Certainly, there’s no question at all that this is an extraordinary beginning to a literary career.

 

The Shore by Sara Taylor is published by William Heinemann (March 2015). Longlisted for the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction 2015.

 



Images and text: Cover (UK Edition); text quotes from Chapter 1 1995 Target practice and Chapter II 1933 Things I could tell you, respectively. Many thanks to Netgalley.

Also of interest:“Amethyst and flowers on the table”, the beauty of Sufjan Stevens’ Carrie and Lowell, a review’, the perfect music to play while reading The Shore.

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