I finished reading Alison Moore's Death and the Seaside last night. It was a strangely compelling journey, with elements both vaguely familiar and sometimes horribly nightmare-ish. Her writing and my curiosity drove me on to see what happened next. And the end left me as a short story does: as if I had stepped back from peeking through curtains to another's domain, back into the bright sunlight of my own familiar world, and left me wondering, questioning, somehow both satisfied and needing more.
The familiarities I encountered were diverse: the lure of the sea , the attraction of psychological experiments (I was fascinated by the B. F. Skinner experiments when I was a schoolgirl), and the overwhelming feeling of failure in the protagonists with the insistent belittling comments from their families. I had read Moore's first novel, The Lighthouse, which was different, unexpected, and haunting, so when I read the review in the Guardian newspaper here I was immediately attracted. Rather than a story I think it could better be described as a slice of a life following progressive incidents. Although not gripped in the traditional way of a thriller, this felt much more real, and I was always keen to know what happened next.
Years ago I read John Irving's According to Garp, and encountered the expression the Under Toad. This prompted the opening of a vague mental file into which I gathered snippets about the emotional power of the seas. Such a file forms part of the protagonist Bonnie's writings, which more prominently include short stories - one of which is woven, unsettling, through the novel.
Reviews can be found here, and here, on Alison Moore's website here, an interview with the author about the novel here.
Now I feel the need for something completely different and familiar: The Baklava Club the next (for me) Yashim the Ottoman detective novel, by Jason Goodwin.