The Mountains of Instead

Championing fiction as an escape from pandemics, politics and bad TV.

A Grey Dawn Breaking (Review: Raw Blue by Kirsty Eagar)

Raw Blue
Kirsty Eagar
Catnip Publishing 2012

Carly is lost and doesn’t know if she ever wants to be found. Living for the sea and the surf, she sleepwalks through the rest of her life, mundane job and limited human interactions. Reeling from a traumatic event in her not so distant life she is slowly distancing herself from anything that might take her back to the night that changed her forever. But by doing so, she is gradually shutting down – and she really doesn’t care, as long as she can get to waves and blue water. Yet the world is a hard place to ignore. Torn between the few characters who seem determined to find a way into her prison and her fear of hearing voices on the street that are horribly familiar, Carly finds herself at breaking point, with no board beneath her to ease her fall.

Carly is a character who is once entirely immediate to the reader and also entirely remote, as she is immediate and remote to all of those she interacts with in Raw Blue. She walks through life as an observer, and her observations of those she works with and those she surfs with are keen and not without care. However, her almost reluctant worry over probably anorexic Kylie, possibly drug riddled Marty and almost definitely alcoholic Roger are again remote as she tries to see in them the strangely sterile torment of her own heart and mind. She is both numb and angry and this is the brilliance of her character – even as she moves on with life, tentatively connecting to a select few, readers realise that Carly is a pot about to boil over.  There is also a pleasing irony in a character who is able to so easily conquer breakers floundering in her own inner sea, unable to escape the waves of memory that crash down again and again and again.

While Raw Blue is populated with an effortless cast of very real characters, those who rise to the fore are Ryan, Hannah and Danny. Hannah is a delight to read, an eccentric whirlwind of a character who invades Carly’s life with tea and salsa dancing while keeping close watch on a girl who she clearly suspects is on the verge of imploding. Danny, while much younger than the others, is again a keen observer of all that is Carly, seeing her (and the rest of the world) in a myriad of colours and happily shining brighter than them all. Ryan as a character is a triumph.  Truly flawed he is the guy who would be traditionally cast as a bad, with the requisite dark past and dodgy friends. Yet Eagar paints him as a normal bloke – a man who has made a few mistakes and will probably make a few more but who is, at heart, pretty decent. He and Carly dance around each other like strange fish, awkward and scared and brimming with need.

The writing in Raw Blue is gorgeous. Some readers may be discouraged by the surf that is as much a character of the story as Carly is, but Eagar writes with such passion about the ocean that it is impossible not to relate to Carly’s love for it. Yet, for a book that contains such beautiful aquatic imagery it also fully inhabits its own murky backwater. Eagar writes about Carly’s trauma in utterly unflinching terms, bringing to life the shocking reality of what she has been subjected to as well as the reality of how it has affected her most intimate moments since.  The author’s approach to such a thorny subject is flawless. Also lurking in the undertow are images of a domineering father, an obligated mother and friends long since lost. It’s a compelling mix. However, it is not all shadows and sharks as Eagar maintains throughout the ability to shoot Carly’s self-imposed exile through with blinding flashes of hope even as we see her sinking ever deeper. One passage in particular touches on the gloriously childlike feeling of unadulterated happiness for no reason at all – it’s relatable, moving and entirely stunning.

Catnip Publishing have staged a real coup in snaffling up this title for publication in the UK (well after its respective Australian and American release dates) and should be congratulated for introducing yet another hugely talented Australian author to the UK.  Raw Blue not only marks Eagar as an author to watch but confirms what many have long suspected – that much of the best YA on recent shelves is from the land down under. Long may this trend continue.  Raw Blue comes highly recommended from The Mountains of Instead.

This review was brought to you by Splendibird. Raw Blue is available in all good bookstores now.


Sandy said…
Beautifully written review, Sya. And of course I agree with everything you said ;)
Angiegirl said…
It really is a flawlessly executed book.
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