Book Review: Only The Ocean  

By Natasha Carthew
Published by Bloomsbury

It’s quirky. It’s original. It’s lyrical. And it’s a love story. Natasha Carthew’s new novel is also pretty arresting.

We’re in what is several times referred to as a “fractal world”. Pirates roam the Cornish coast where the lawless towns are rigidly socially divided, uneasy and sometimes riotous. A year or two into the future perhaps this is a very gloomy post-Brexit vision.

Kel, 15 – who takes her loathed baby (we don’t learn his sex until page 102) everywhere with her – has an outrageous plan to improve her lot. She’s resourceful, determined and single-minded but, of course, it can’t possibly work and before long two teenage girls and an infant are at sea alone and it’s very dangerous. Gradually they form a bond and eventually there’s a chance that all three of them might have a better future.

Carthew creates a strange, almost musical idiolect for Kel, who is of course, deeply disturbed. The narrative tension in the novel is driven partly by the reader’s being kept waiting a very long time to learn what exactly it is that Kel is escaping from.

The novelist, who has published two volumes of poetry, also uses the sort of poetic language in her story telling which makes you stop and read the sentence again in delight. Take this one, for example: “She was at the tide’s mercy and that of the changing winds and the craggy, cagey moon.” Or this one: “Kel lay with her face half buried in silver grit-flick sand.” She clearly knows her Homer.

Review by Susan Elkin