Reach by Laurence Fearnley – 2014

reachWhat a lovely book about choices and relationships and art and deep sea diving.  Quinn is an artist worried that her best creative days might have passed but unwilling to compromise her lifestyle.  And did she knowingly wreck Marcus’ marriage, or was that just the way things turned out?  Marcus, a vet who is starting to regret losing his daughter in the difficult break-up, is second guessing his own actions and motives – once while out running he was jabbed by a spikey branch ‘and thought, bizarrely, that he had been attacked by a swordsman’  – he becomes so obsessed he is missing what is right in front of him.  And Callum is an itinerant saturation diver – happiest beneath the ocean in the dark – but getting to an age where that is not a viable career and realising he is lonely.

The novel counts down – but is that to the next exhibition, the birth of a child or the breakup of a relationship?  The episodes unfold framed by the natural world, but a world that is not alien: a rock pool “could vary in size from a handkerchief to a beach towel.  Today it was the size of a pillow”.  There is a lovely recurring image of the swaying kelp forest off the coast where the novel is set, but nature is being abused; the characters are constantly picking up rubbish from the beach.  And at one point Callum is upset by seeing a shag caught in fishing line in a rock crevice.

The characters are ageing – Callum looking at the end of his career, Quinn faced with the increasing protocol of mounting exhibitions – her latest requiring an OSH strategy, and Marcus aware that his young daughter is now a young woman.  It is an achievement that you believe in Quinn and Marcus’ relationship despite only witnessing its low point.

The novel is a subtle exploration of the relationship between art and life – Quinn can’t ‘explain’ her art, just as she doesn’t understand how Marcus perceives it.  Callum wants people to actually experience what he loves about being underwater – and is amazed when Quinn captures it in a piece without that experience.  The unfolding of the theme of Quinn’s exhibition is brilliant – as the way we imagine the works alters depending on what Quinn is going through.  Reach is altogether a satisfying novel.

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