I won’t lie. This book did not gel well with me. In fact, it sent me into a bit of a reading slump. It was decent enough to make me want to finish reading, but without much enthusiasm. By the time I realised that I wasn’t enjoying it as much, it was too late (personally) to not read to the end (my general rule is if I get past the half way point, I finish the book).
That’s not to say that it’s a bad read. Some of the writing is gorgeous, the characters are engaging, and the story itself is good. I just felt that the execution was lacking in some quite significant aspects for my own preferences.
Rachel and James Croft seemingly have the perfect life. They, and their beloved son, Oscar, live in a gorgeous house overlooking the sea in Bermuda. James’ career continues to rise, while Rachel enjoys her time as a stay-at-home Mum.
Awakening on their boat on the first morning of a mini sea-break, however, the couple’s lives are turned upside down: Oscar isn’t in his bed. A frantic search in the surrounding water ensues, with the help of a search crew, but Oscar is nowhere to be seen.
As the trauma takes its toll, their housekeeper CeeCee tries her best to reach out to them, and help them through their horrifying ordeal. But can they recover? And will Oscar ever return to them?
I’m going to start with what I did like about this book – it’s always good to start with the positives.
- Discovering Oscar is missing: This was wonderfully written. It was tense without veering into melodrama or action for the sake of it. I believed that these were the reactions of two panicked parents searching for their child. In part because of the Bermuda location, but it felt very filmic: I could visualise the contrast of an idyllic location being the backdrop of a horrifying situation.
- Grief: Some of the passages detailing Rachel’s experience in particular were so achingly beautiful; sad and stunning at once. Some aspects were uncomfortable simply for being so relatable to feelings I’ve had after losing someone close. Prowse really captured the rawness of what it means to lose, especially a child.
- The manner in which Prowse explored stages of grief beyond that initial rawness was also good: Rachel and James’ guilt at trying to move on; the constant ‘looking back’ to see what could have been done differently. I felt that, in spite of much focus being on Rachel’s experience, there was decent balance with James’ loss as a father, as well as extended family and friends.
- CeeCee: I adored this character: she filled a definite ‘role’ within the story (wise older woman) but she had nuance that stretched beyond those limits. As she tries to help Rachel through her grief, she writes letters detailing her own story: sharing her life is clearly as relieving for her as she hopes it will be for Rachel. Of all the characters in The Coordinates of Loss, it was her story that I kept wanting to know more of: I was waiting for the next letter to appear.
Now for the not-so-good.
- Overdone dialogue: What I mean by this is that some interactions between characters felt so unrealistic. Prowse clearly has a wonderful imagination to create such amazing verbal images, but using these as dialogue just didn’t work for me. It took me right out of the story, because it felt so unnatural.
- Class: This is a very specific issue I had, though relatively minor. There was just something about the presentation of Rachel’s homeplace and childhood that seemed off to me. Attempts were made to draw a huge contrast between her childhood and the Bermuda life she and James achieved, as though her family’s social situation was beyond the reach of it. No, Rachel’s family aren’t shown to be rich, but it still seemed a little inauthentic and I still haven’t pinpointed why. For me, it just seemed as though the supposed gap between Rachel’s two lives wasn’t quite as big as the author was trying to present it to be.
- Density: This is the biggest issue I had and it is so hard to describe properly and sensitively. I’m aware that grief is not ‘light’ or easy, an writing it into one’s work has to be done with so much care and consideration, which I applaud Prowse fully for achieving. But I found it too much as the sole focus of the story. The story was dense in that there seemed so little progression, so much repetition that it became hard to find motivation to continue. In some ways, CeeCee’s narrative helped this, because she was able to tell her story so it always moved towards its send. This isn’t a criticism of the main story per se, but was something I realised made me relunctant to continue reading.
I really don’t like writing negative reviews. I can’t imagine how much time and skill it involves to write a book from start to finish, and when the content is as emotional as this, there’s an extra emotional toil involved. But I have to be honest that though I enjoyed aspects of this book, it wasn’t one that I was particularly motivated to read in the end. Lots of readers will disagree – Prowse is a well-loved and respected author – so I hope I’ve provided some balance in my thoughts here. Sadly, this book just wasn’t for me.
Thanks so much for reading this review. Let me know what you think in the comments!
* The Coordinates of Loss, by Amanda Prowse, is published by Lake Union Publishing, Seattle