October 18, 2017

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British family awash with suppressed emotions

A Canadian author now living in Bristol, England, Gillian Best makes a literary splash with her debut novel, The Last Wave.

Throughout the book, Best demonstrates her ability to accurately portray the emotional layers that exist within the Roberts family. John and Martha are extremely reluctant to express their true feelings and pass this emotional handicap on to their children Iain and Harriet (Harry). Their emotional suppression causes many misunderstandings and much unnecessary distress, and the reader is tempted to step in to help sort out the characters’ true feelings because they are unable to properly explain themselves.

As The Last Wave takes readers back and forth in time, it becomes clear that the love between John and Martha forms a strong bond that even cancer, dementia and death cannot completely sever. Martha first mourns the gradual loss of the husband she knew as John’s mental faculties slowly deteriorate. After Martha’s death, John in turn rekindles his memory of her by carrying around a small suitcase that she had used to store her swimming supplies.

While the Roberts family seems to be relatively ordinary, living a quiet life in Dorset on the south coast of England, Martha is extraordinarily accomplished. She is a successful swimmer, having crossed the English Channel — the 33 kilometres of ocean in the Strait of Dover between England and France — 10 times.

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A Canadian author now living in Bristol, England, Gillian Best makes a literary splash with her debut novel, The Last Wave.

Throughout the book, Best demonstrates her ability to accurately portray the emotional layers that exist within the Roberts family. John and Martha are extremely reluctant to express their true feelings and pass this emotional handicap on to their children Iain and Harriet (Harry). Their emotional suppression causes many misunderstandings and much unnecessary distress, and the reader is tempted to step in to help sort out the characters’ true feelings because they are unable to properly explain themselves.

As The Last Wave takes readers back and forth in time, it becomes clear that the love between John and Martha forms a strong bond that even cancer, dementia and death cannot completely sever. Martha first mourns the gradual loss of the husband she knew as John’s mental faculties slowly deteriorate. After Martha’s death, John in turn rekindles his memory of her by carrying around a small suitcase that she had used to store her swimming supplies.

While the Roberts family seems to be relatively ordinary, living a quiet life in Dorset on the south coast of England, Martha is extraordinarily accomplished. She is a successful swimmer, having crossed the English Channel — the 33 kilometres of ocean in the Strait of Dover between England and France — 10 times.

It is an accidental fall into the sea when she’s 10 that begins Martha’s undying obsession with swimming in the ocean. "I got used to the sea in the same way one might get used to a new friend or a puppy. I began to learn what I could expect from the water, what it tasted like — which I did not care for much — and how it moved. It was too cold for me to stay in for long, but it was enough for me to be captivated."

Martha remains captivated by the sea throughout her marriage. She uses her daily swims as a means to escape from frustration with John and her children and, later from the fear she feels over John’s illness and her cancer diagnosis.

It comes as a surprise when she discovers that the granddaughter she hardly knows shares her passion for swimming. Although Myrtle has grown up in London and has only swum in indoor pools, she quickly adapts to the ocean’s demands and grows determined to honour her grandmother’s accomplishments.

Best herself admits to being a seaside enthusiast. Originally from Waterloo, Ont., she won the Bronwen Wallace Award for short fiction and was a finalist for the Bridport Prize International Creative Writing Competition and Wasafiri’s New Writing Prize.

In The Last Wave, her entirely convincing portrayal of the Roberts family and their many undercurrents show that she’s just beginning her journey as a fiction writer.

Andrea Geary is a reporter with Canstar Community News.

Read more reviewed by Andrea Geary.

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