The Last Wave

Foreword Reviews - - Reviews - MEA­GAN LOGSDON

Gil­lian Best House of Anansi Press (MARCH) Soft­cover $17.95 (304pp), 978-1-4870-0293-0

In Gil­lian Best’s The Last Wave, raw hu­man emo­tion teems just un­der­neath the lap­ping sur­face of mod­ern English life.

Af­ter ac­ci­den­tally fall­ing into the sea while fish­ing with her fa­ther, Martha be­gins a life­long romance with the salty waves. De­spite her mother’s in­sis­tence that she take a tra­di­tional path, Martha dreams of swim­ming the English Chan­nel. Even af­ter marrying John, hav­ing chil­dren, and ac­cept­ing do­mes­tic du­ties, she never loses that de­sire. The ob­ses­sion sus­tains her through cancer, her hus­band’s Alzheimer’s, and a rift with her daugh­ter, Har­riet, formed be­cause John will not ac­cept Har­riet’s re­la­tion­ship with an­other woman.

The novel is beau­ti­fully poignant. Its emo­tional un­der­cur­rents are pre­sented in a qui­etly pow­er­ful style, free of man­u­fac­tured melo­drama. De­tails are care­fully cho­sen and breathe life into de­pic­tions of Dover and France. Martha’s myr­tle bush, a plant usu­ally found near the sea, is a lovely re­cur­ring sym­bol of the con­nec­tions, how­ever loose, that hold her fam­ily to­gether. It takes on hu­man form in Har­riet’s daugh­ter, Myr­tle, an ea­ger young swim­mer who es­tab­lishes a link be­tween Har­riet’s wife, Iris, and Martha.

Though Martha is the bind­ing cen­tral­ity here, win­dows into her fam­ily’s per­spec­tives are opened. This is par­tic­u­larly ef­fec­tive with John, who is at risk of be­ing painted pri­mar­ily as an an­tag­o­nis­tic hus­band hell-bent on main­tain­ing a tra­di­tional house­hold. His sec­tions of the novel brim with sym­pa­thetic sad­ness, espe­cially once his Alzheimer’s sur­faces.

For Har­riet, nav­i­gat­ing the wa­ters of in­tol­er­ance proves chal­leng­ing. And while Alzheimer’s steals John’s chance to reach a point of ac­cep­tance, it soft­ens the re­sent­ment Har­riet has for him.

The Last Wave, like the sea that holds Martha in its grip, is both gen­tly stir­ring and tu­mul­tuous, a harsh yet al­lur­ing voy­age through the decades of a woman’s life.

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