The Sea Change is a novel about many things: love and grief, friendship and betrayal, the devastation caused by war and natural disasters, but perhaps most importantly, the relationships between mothers and daughters.
Violet Fielding lives with her parents and her sister, Freda, in a small Wiltshire village called Imber. In the middle of the Second World War the residents of Imber are forced to evacuate, leaving the village to be requisitioned by army troops and used for military training exercises. As Violet tries to settle into a new life in a new home, she is unable to forget Imber, her childhood friends and Pete, the boy she fell in love with.
Many years later in 1971, Violet’s daughter, Alice, is travelling to India with her boyfriend, James. Alice was not on good terms with Violet when they parted; her mother disapproves of James and isn’t very happy about Alice going so far away. When they reach India, Alice and James get married, but the day after their wedding the coast of India is hit by a tsunami and Alice is separated from her new husband, who had gone out to get breakfast. As she begins to search for him – an almost impossible task, given the scale of the disaster and the number of people who are missing – Alice reflects on her life with James and thinks about what went wrong in her relationship with her mother.
The Sea Change is one of those dual time period novels I’ve complained about so much in the past, but I thought the structure worked quite well in this case. Although the two stories are set in different times and places, I could see parallels between them – in both there is a sense of loss and grief for things and people that are gone forever. I never managed to become as interested in Alice’s story as I was in Violet’s, but I did love the way the two storylines began to merge together towards the end.
I’ve read a lot of books about the war but none that have dealt with this particular aspect: the idea of an entire village that has been abandoned and the effects of this on the people who once lived there. It was so sad to read about a whole community being broken up and forced into a different way of life. The fact that Imber is a real place, still uninhabited today, makes the story even more moving. Alice’s story was also something new for me; I’ve seen images on the news, of course, showing the destruction a tidal wave can cause, but it’s not something I’ve ever read about in fiction.
There are some books that grab me from the first page and don’t let go until the end; other books are gentler and draw me in more slowly. This was one of the second type but that doesn’t mean I liked it any less. The Sea Change is a beautifully written book, filled with emotion and poignancy and a real understanding of complex relationships. There are some beautiful descriptions too, of both England and India. I would never have guessed this was Joanna Rossiter’s first novel as it feels like the work of a much more experienced author! I’m looking forward to seeing what she writes next.
Thanks to Penguin for providing a review copy of this book.