When the publicans of the Freemasons pub find out why Jack has moved to Blue Bay, they tell him he has moved to the wrong town. Jack is a writer and his reason for moving to this little coastal town is because a body was found on the beach. A body that was found fully dressed, a suitcase sitting by its side on the beach. A body that nobody knew anything about. A body whose identity, years later, is still unknown. And this is what interests Jack. He is writing about bodies that have been found. Bodies with no identities. John and Jane Does.
As he becomes friendlier with the publicans, Else and her husband Kevin, Jack finds out that he is not the only writer who has visited Blue Bay. In fact, a writer who wrote a novel about the town stayed in the very cottage that Jack is living in. Simon Turner was his name. He also disappeared.
Jack finds out that the sister of the owner of the cottage he is living in disappeared a few years ago, and that this owner, Sarah, has been painting murals everywhere in the vague hope that her sister may be recognized. Sarah, like Jack, is searching for something missing.
When we hear Alice’s story, there are a myriad of reasons that could explain her disappearance. She was caring for her dying Mum. She had been trapped in a relationship, more a prisoner than a partner. Because of the palliative care with her mother Alice had access to morphine. Maybe she was using, could she have aided her mother in assisted suicide. To put it bluntly, Alice was not leading a happy life. But the novel is not about Alice. It is about identity, the loss of identity. It is about searching for the missing.
This novel makes you think of the families and the loved ones of missing persons. They feel all the pain and loss, every bit as powerful as a death or passing, but they have no closure, no actual physical presence to mourn. As time goes on the pain can only become worse. There is even a definition, an “ambiguous loss”. A loss without a reason. Schrodinger’s cat is mentioned, and it is interesting because these missing people are in the obverse state of the cat in the experiment, neither alive nor dead.
Jack is suffering from a terminal illness and towards the end of the story it almost feels like he is starting to lose his own identity. He is on experimental drugs and when he starts reading Simon’s novel about the town and its inhabitants, his reality starts to blur with Simon’s narrative. It’s skilful writing.
Philip Salom is an Australian poet and novelist, whose poetry books have drawn widespread acclaim. His 14 collections of poetry and four novels are noted for their originality and expansiveness and surprising differences from title to title. His poetry has won awards in Australia and the UK.
MY RATING -