A poetic, almost successful debut tale of a small-town girl who’s in love—in about equal parts—with the sea, her absent father, and a man named Jude.
That the narrator often seems younger than her 19 years may be due partly to the influence of the seedy, parochial, decrepit little seaside town where she lives—the town her father mysteriously disappeared from 11 years back, leaving wife and daughter to catch as catch can. “We don’t move away,” she tells us, “ . . . because we are waiting for him to return.” And the wait, it’s hard for a reader to deny, feels long as the girl aches incessantly not only for her father but for the love of 33-year-old Jude, whom she met once when she was wading in the sea—and Jude was coming out of it, thus reminding her of her father, who may (not an absolute certainty) have disappeared into it. Jude and the girl become fast friends but not lovers—nor, however much she yearns for sex with him, do they become lovers later, in the novel’s present time, after Jude has gone to and returned from the first Iraq war. After Iraq, he’s different—inward, melancholy, “war-torn.” And sexually unresponsive. And so things are frozen, halted. Only as Hunt turns farther toward a lyric magic realism where the real, symbolic, and imaginary blend, is it possible for the story’s resolution to occur. The trouble is, though, that all hangs on Jude’s war traumas, which have an inserted and prepackaged feel, and, further, don’t provide change but only shock. Dream, madness, error, and sorrow, plus another strange and magical encounter, will at last bring everything to an end, if not a close.
Intelligent, complex, and ambitious, with symbols and structure that have life and movement, while the psychology at the base of it all remains stubbornly—and unsatisfyingly—inert.