Book review: Riptides by Kirsten Alexander

Wednesday, March 11, 2020 Permalink

I feel like I’m a latecomer to Riptides by Kirsten Alexander as it seems to have been out for a while, though really it’s only been a month or two. It’s been hugely popular however and (I understand) already reprinted twice.

Alexander offers readers a challenging narrative as we wonder what we’d do in a similar situation but I must admit what I loved most about this book was the trip down memory lane as it’s set in 1974-1975. I would have only been six years of age at the time but it brought back far more memories than I expected.

Book review: Riptides by Kirsten AlexanderRiptides
by Kirsten Alexander
Published by Penguin Random House Australia
on 04/02/2020
Source: Penguin Random House Australia
Genres: General Fiction
ISBN: 9780143792086
Pages: 352

In 1974, in country Queensland, Charlie Campbell forces a car off an unlit and rarely travelled dirt road into a tree, killing the pregnant driver. The crash wakes Charlie’s sister, Abby, who’d been sleeping in the passenger seat next to him. They were heading to their father’s farm.

A dead woman has no place in either of their plans. They drive away, leaving her on the ground as heavy rain falls. They cannot help her, there are no witnesses, and there is too much at stake.

When they arrive at the farm, the siblings learn that the dead woman, Skye, was their father’s fiance.

They resolve to tell no one what they’ve done — to admit to this crime will cost them their father and their future. Charlie leans on his older sister to lead them out of trouble, to act as the protector she’s had to be since their mother died. But their secret grows more complicated by the day.

I loved the quintessential Australian-ness of this book which managed to make me feel nostalgic without ramming sentimentality down my throat or relying on endless Aussie-themed cliches.

I remember the floods of 1974 (though only vaguely). I remember hearing about Cyclone Tracy though – at 6yrs of age – didn’t fully understand the implications. I remember the entrenchment of (then) Premier Joh Bjelke-Peterson and view of Queensland as a backwater (which remained the case until the early 1990s I’d suggest); and pondered on the fact fitted sheets were available back by the mid 70s!

So the time and culture reflected in this book really spoke to me and grounded the novel in reality.

Alexander’s made a couple of clever choices in the way she offers us this view. Charlie’s an outsider to an extent as he’s been living in Bali. He cringes at the idea of returning to Queensland / Australia. It’s home but it’s not. (As an aside, it’s interesting to see reference to Bali starting to become a popular holiday haven – little did they know?!)

In addition, making Abby’s husband Mark a journalist means Alexander’s able to reference other key events of the time through his work.

The coincidence of the accident involving their father’s fiance Skye felt feasible but I probably wasn’t as clear on some of Skye’s backstory and the plot involving her ex and her son.

I requested this book because so many people I know loved it. I certainly enjoyed it and am giving it four stars which is excellent from me; but I think I found myself more frustrated with some of the characters than beguiled.

In fact, I didn’t really like any of the central characters that much, so engaged with them less than I expected; and wasn’t entirely convinced by the siblings’ father’s relationship with Skye having gone on so long without them knowing about it. Similarly some of the decisions made by our key characters didn’t seem entirely logical (which I do realise is the point of contention!).

Despite those niggles I very much loved the chance to revisit my home-state’s history and polished this off in a sitting.

Riptides by Kirsten Alexander was published in Australia by Penguin Random House and is now available.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes. 


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