Unmoored by catastrophe, a father takes his daughter and dog to sea in this gentle novel from Orange Prize finalist Roffey (The White Woman on the Green Bicycle, 2011, etc.).
It’s been almost a year since a disastrous flood in Port of Spain, Trinidad, drowned Gavin’s infant son. His wife, Claire, retreated into speechlessness and nearly constant sleep; she is staying with her mother while Gavin and their 6-year-old daughter, Océan, have returned to their rebuilt home. But Gavin keeps falling asleep at work, and Océan sobs for whole nights. They can’t get over their losses in a house filled with memories, Gavin decides; he boards his boat Romany with Océan and their dog Suzy, determined to fulfill his youthful dream of visiting the Galapagos Islands. As they sail west toward the Panama Canal, stops along the way at various islands give Roffey the opportunity to make some pointed observations about wealthy tourists, and she draws a quiet parallel between the legacy of colonialism and her characters’ emotional state: “Recovery takes time; it is the story of the still emerging Caribbean.” Gavin worries at first, as both Océan and Suzy retch with seasickness while he struggles to guide Romany through a squall, that he’s made a terrible mistake; ongoing references to Moby-Dick underscore the sea’s capacity to inflict harm, as does a shipboard fall that leaves Océan with a nasty wound. Island doctors stitch up her leg, and we see father and daughter slowly reawakening to happiness as they experience tranquil days amid the natural beauty of the Caribbean. But the departure of Phoebe, a young woman hired to help with the three-day sail over open seas to Cartegena, reanimates Océan’s anguish over her mother’s abandonment, and father and daughter must endure one more bereavement before their journey ends.
A bit short on narrative energy, but appealingly warmhearted; readers will empathize with the endearing characters and want them to have a happy ending.