Book review: Tidelines by Sarah Sasson

Saturday, January 20, 2024 Permalink

Tidelines by Sarah Sasson is an eerily poignant read as it opens after a tragedy then goes back into the past, beguiling readers with the story of siblings; knowing that all does not end well, but intrigued as to how we get there.

As someone who grew up with a high-achieving older brother I could very much relate to young ‘Grub’ here. Elijah is admired and respected by his peers and adults, including their parents. He’s athletic and a talented musician – deemed for greatness. Grub lives in his shadow and conscious of that, but at the same time, not jealous or envious (rather, proud… but at the same time aware of the flaws others might not see).

Book review: Tidelines by Sarah SassonTidelines
by Sarah Sasson
Published by Affirm Press
on 30/01/2024
Source: NetGalley
Genres: General Fiction, Literary Fiction
ISBN: 9781922848420
Pages: 288

It's Sydney in the early 2000s, and Grub is spending the summer with her universally-adored older brother, Elijah, and his magnetic but troubled best friend, Zed. Their days are filled with surfing, swimming and hanging out; life couldn't be better.

But years later, Elijah disappears and Grub's family unravels. At first, Grub blames Zed: he was the one who derailed Elijah from a bright future in the arts. But as Grub looks back at those dreamy summer days, the sanctuary of her certainty crumbles. Was Zed really responsible for her brother's disappearance? Was anyone?

The arrival of Zed changes everything for Grub’s family. He and Elijah become inseparable, initially sidelining Grub but then they open up their friendship and the three become allies of sorts. It’s interesting however as a reader – on the outside looking in – to see how Elijah knows he’s doing stuff he shouldn’t and though going in that direction himself, wants to protect his young sister from following in his footsteps. And I enjoyed the dichotomy of retaining that role of responsible big brother while trying to strip himself of the golden-child persona foisted upon him by others.

The story opens in 2001 when Zed arrives in their lives. Grub is 14 and Elijah 17 and finishing school. We then jump forward to 2010 and it’s interesting to see the changes in Grub and Elijah over the intervening nine years. Elijah’s not pursued opportunities presented (and earned). And of course the unanswered question underpinning this book is whether he instinctively rebelled against that life, or was led astray. And that’s ultimately the question Grub asks herself. Is it Zed’s fault or would Elijah’s would-be trajectory involved crashing and burning anyway. Of course, on that note, we’re reminded that what ‘success’ or ‘living’ might look like to some, might make little sense to others.

My brother had become an erratic protagonist in a story with the wrong ending. I was scrambling behind him, clutching at a narrative, trying to assign meaning where there was none. 86% through ebook

Also of interest is the way in which Grub blames her parents for not intervening or ‘saving’ her brother. Did they not see the golden child becoming tarnished? Were they in denial about the direction his life was taking? I suspect there are turning points we see back in late 2001 as Elijah’s finishing school, but even then their authority over him was limited, and even less so, years later when he’s in his 20s.

I appreciated that Sasson also touches on addiction and mental illness, as well as dementia and note her own medical research / scientific background ensured references to adult Grub’s work was detailed in an effortless way.

In some ways this is a study of characters – who we think we are, who we actually are, who we become, and how and why we get there.

Something inside me moved its wings then, small and bright. I wondered how much of my identity, of my fibre, was tied up in storytelling. If I were a ragdoll, stories would be my stitches and stuffing. Holding me together, padding me out. Tales of things I had done, or those that grew and evolved outside of the truth. 92% through ebook

But Sasson’s writing is the standout here for me. Her beautiful prose do the story of Grub and Elijah justice taking readers along, traversing love, anger, fear, guilt, regret, grief, loss and disappointment.

I told him about Elijah, how I used to be a sister. 98% (*sobs*)

Tidelines by Sarah Sasson will be published in Australia by Affirm Press on 30 January 2024.

I received an electronic copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.
(I usually only review hard copy books I receive on my website but occasionally make allowances for something special.) 


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