Gothic fiction on Chesil Beach
This unusual novel is primarily peopled by four characters who live in a short terrace of foundationless cottages on the edge of Chesil Beach, on Portland, which is on the Dorset coast of Britain (I explain for American readers who have a Portland of their own in Oregon). At the outset one quickly realises that each character demonstrates different, unlovely facets that exist within us all. We mostly have lovely aspects too, but Hawker puts the extreme edges of who we are here on the page. As the novel develops so too do the characters. Some become people one empathises with and begins to love. Others go over that dark edge. New characters wander onto the island from the mainland, bringing their own darkness and light. Each changes the direction of the book, pulling at and spitting out the original tide-wracked characters who live at the mercy of the sea, and each other.
As I say, the novel is set on the island of Portland – somewhere Hawker knows as well as he knows the profundities of the human character (which is to say: very well indeed). The plot of the book is interspersed with myths and legends of that not-quite-an-island. From the outset (where one learns the importance of the seventh wave) it is a character in its own right. It is an eerie presence. One could say sinister. Could these events happen on the mainland? One doubts it. There is – as with the human characters – much that is lovely about Portland (I live in Weymouth, love the island and go there often). But there is also much that is introspective, mythologised, and (in this novel) dark. The book is not short of malice.
Like the tide coming in, the plot roils and sucks at the lives of the four neighbours, who become increasingly entangled. Some old wounds are re-opened, others are healed. The waters grow deep indeed before the Grand Guignol denouement. To say more would mean spoilers of an unforgiveable nature. I hope, however, I have been able to say enough to tempt you to this unusual book which is both ‘literary fiction’ as far as the attention to characterisation and interaction goes and ‘gothic’ as far as plot is concerned.
In this review I originally slated the quality of the editing, saying it let the book down. Since then, I am assured by other readers that the problems have been fixed and a further print run done. This is excellent news, and hopefully happened before the Booker Prize judges saw it. So now I can say without let or hindrance: this is one of the best novels I have read this year. (The house style is still pretty extreme in the printed book, but less so in the Kindle edition.)
One thought on “Review: ‘Inside the Seventh Wave’ by GW Hawker”
This book is next on my ‘to read’ list, Judi. You make it sound very enticing!