Below Deck was not what I’d expected.
I was fortunate to receive a copy from Allen & Unwin through Suzanne Leal’s Book Group (which I must get back to!) earlier in the year, and it promptly went on my ‘to be read’ pile. Rave reviews had focused on the absorbing nature of the story, and how it was a ‘book for our times.’ I had read so many comments of ‘I couldn’t put it down’, that I had expected it to be a light read, a ‘chick lit’ book about Olivia (Oli) that touched on the ‘me too’ movement somehow.
Below Deck was beautifully written, but you wouldn’t call it a light read. It was thought-provoking, and ultimately rang with hope, but the middle section was hard. Painful. Personal. I can’t recall ever reading a book that so truthfully portrayed the mental anguish and physical ordeal of the most intimate trauma imaginable. Like Oli, I felt completely adrift, and I needed time before I could check in with the vulnerable protagonist to see if she was OK.
This was a book of fiction, but it felt very honest, very raw. Sometimes I think that the ‘me too’ movement is portrayed as an army of women who experienced sexual assault, often at the hands of powerful and prominent men. Empowering for those women, undoubtedly. But in reality, the ‘me too’ movement extends far beyond the gossipy and salacious details of inexcusable behaviour by famous men.
Below Deck peeled away the layers of the ‘me too’ movement, and really grasped Oli’s full experience of trauma. The event was only the beginning. The self-doubt, self-blame, confusion, issues of trust, grief, fear – these are part-and-parcel of the ‘me-too’ movement, yet rarely seen in the tabloids. Importantly, this trauma was balanced by Hardcastle’s gentle humour, particularly in interactions with a diverse set of characters. The inspired references to synaesthesia, seeing in colour, also added an expressive and poetic dimension to the writing, and the imagery of the water provided the perfect metaphor.
This book was not what I expected, but not in a bad way. It was a profoundly moving and important book. It has prompted me to have even more conversations with my daughters (nearly all in their early 20s, like Oli at the start of the book) and to applaud the brave women who have come forward publicly, as well as those who must privately navigate their way through the rough waters.
Please find here an assorted mix of what I tend to read - new books, old books, birthday gifts, gifts to myself, books from my to-be-read pile, Book Group books, fiction, non-fiction, memoirs - basically a weird assortment of goodies!
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