RUNNING AGAINST THE TIDE
Author: Amanda Ortlepp
Simon & Schuster RRP $32.99
Review: Monique Mulligan
Expect to suspect everyone in Running Against the Tide, the latest novel from Amanda Ortlepp (Claiming Noah). An undercurrent of malice swims through the novel, luring readers into its depths, and tossing up red herrings that promote suspicion and tension.
When Erin Travers moves to the rugged Eyre Peninsula in South Australia, she’s leaving a life of uncertainty and mis-trust, and hoping for a fresh start with her two teenage sons. Her oldest son, Mike, seems to settle in quickly, but her younger son, Ryan, is less than happy about the move. He misses his father, feels like he doesn’t fit in, and is angry at the world and his mother. Erin’s concerns for him niggle, even while she catches the eye of a local, nicknamed Puff, and makes friends with her next-door neighbours.
However, re-entering the dating world, albeit warily, leads to trouble for Erin: rose bushes mysteriously appear in her garden and are then found uprooted in her garden; money goes missing; someone starts sending warning letters; and Erin’s new art studio/shed is burnt down. Fingers are pointed, suspicions are raised, and trust is eroded. Erin’s not the only one having a bad time: someone is stealing oysters from the local oyster farms and everyone has an opinion about who’s behind the thefts. As Erin discovers, wherever you go, your baggage comes along for the ride, and the past usually catches up.
Ortlepp cleverly draws together themes including belonging, relationship breakdown, parent-child relationships, gambling, sibling discord, addiction, crime and guilt in Running Against the Tide. At nearly every turn of the page there is a threat. Why is Erin a target? Why is Mike so quick to judge his younger brother? Why is Ryan’s behaviour so challenging? What’s keeping Erin and Ryan from connecting? Is it a normal part of teenage life, especially when some trauma has been involved? Or is there something wrong with Ryan? These questions, and more, will keep readers turning pages, guessing all the way.
The character I most resonated with, interestingly, was the belligerent and complicated Ryan. It’s probably because some of his “attitude”, actions and reactions to emotional trauma and life upheaval reminded me of one of my sons. I felt for this boy and hoped that someone would be able to reach him – that is, if he was reachable and teachable. I also understood Erin’s sense of hopelessness – I have been there. Am still there at times. I wanted to tell her to keep the faith (just as sometimes I need someone to tell me that). A minor character, Helen, provides a lovely lesson towards the end of the novel. So, as to the characterisation in this novel, good work was done.
The tension also built up well, though a couple of things jarred. The ending seemed rushed, with the climax not quite reaching the heights I expected. For example, the explanation of Erin’s wrist injury (which happens before the novel starts and is another source of suspicion and questioning) felt like it was thrown in there to tie up loose ends. I wasn’t surprised by the reveal, because I’d suspected this person all along, despite the red herrings. And when one character died, I didn’t feel that emotional impact I would have expected, mainly because it felt glossed over.
Overall, a tense and twisty page-turner, with an interesting and new setting, that kept me hooked until the end.
Available from good bookstores. My copy was courtesy of Simon & Schuster.