|Joan and I during one of our 'bookish' lunches|
Joan reviewed The Child Who by Simon Lelic for Random Things back in October 2012.
Today Joan reviews The Starboard Sea by Amber Dermont which was published in paperback by Corsair (Constable & Robinson) on 18 July 2013. My thanks to Lucy from Constable & Robinson who sent the copy for review.
‘TheStarboard Sea’ is the debut novel of Amber Dermont, although she is already the published author of a collection of short stories called ‘Damage Control’.
At the beginning of this novel we learn the back story of Jason Prosper, expelled from school at the age of eighteen and now starting a new term at Bellingham Academy, famed as a school of ‘second chances’ for students with nowhere else to go. With his rich father and behind him a life of privilege, Jason is on his way to Bellingham to start afresh, with the promise of the funding for a new hall of residence in turn for his acceptance as a student there.
Jason has had a very bad time and is guilt ridden following the death of his best friend Cal, who killed himself when Jason and he had become estranged following a minor disagreement after a life-long and intensely close relationship. Although Jason discovered Cal’s body hanging in their room he did not report what had happened. Instead he kept watch from afar as someone else entered their dormitory and the furore began.
At Bellingham, Jason’s reputation preceded him. He and Cal had been talented sailors, matching each other perfectly and winning many competitions together. Indeed he had competed against Bellingham Academy in the past and Jason’s housemaster was keen to get him onside and teamed up with another promising partner. This section of the novel is really interesting with fascinating information and details about technical issues, rules and regulations and best practice in sailing. There is no doubt that Jason had been well and truly bitten by the bug of sailing but the tragic death of Cal has certainly left him without much desire or ambition to start sailing competitively again. However he is persuaded to give it a go and following a sailing accident when Jason had to rescue his classmate and surely saved him from death, he decided finally to quit. However, grudges were secretly bourn against Jason and at a time when he was at his very lowest he found himself a target for reprisals.
Bellingham Academy also catered for female students and Jason soon builds up a friendship with Aidan, a girl with low self esteem, already damaged by her family situation and recovering from a dark secret infatuation that ended very badly. Gradually as they get to know each other they become close friends and as they spend more time together, their relationship built on mutual trust and understanding flourishes and they divulge secrets, which bring them to the verge of the utmost intimacy. With party invitations issued and a hurricane threatened, a series of very unlucky incidents result in another death that devastates Jason even more than Cal’s death and leaves him reeling and searching for the truth of what happened that night.
Within this story are issues about growing up, dealing with grief, searching for identity, learning to fit in, building and maintaining relationships, loyalty, learning to take responsibility, being truthful and taking the consequences of your actions. It is very sad in places but also very true to life and an excellent example of how a young boy finally becomes a man, albeit learning the lessons of life the hard way. I enjoyed this novel and found it compelling reading.
Amber Dermont received her MFA in fiction from the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop, where she held the prestigious Teaching-Writing Fellowship. She is the author of Damage Control, a collection of short stories. She is currently the Charles Loridans Chair and associate professor of English and creative writing at Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Georgia. The Starboard Sea is her first novel.