Book review: To the Sea by Christine Dibley

Wednesday, December 28, 2016 Permalink

I was supposed to be on a reading / reviewing break when I picked up this book, but it hooked me enough that I kept reading through the rigours of Christmas food comas.

On the whole I enjoyed it, though it did wander into a realm (literally) that I usually avoid. Of course that’s more about my own taste than the book itself which certainly has a lot to offer.

Book review: To the Sea by Christine DibleyTo The Sea
by Christine Dibley
Published by Macmillan Australia
on December 22nd 2016
Source: PanMacmillan
Genres: Fantasy, General Fiction
ISBN: 9781743547441
Pages: 464

On a clear summer's day, Detective Inspector Tony Vincent answers a call-out to an idyllic Tasmanian beach house. Surrounded by family and calm waters, seventeen-year-old Zoe Kennett has inexplicably vanished.

Four storytellers share their version of what has led to this moment, weaving tales which span centuries and continents. But Tony needs facts, not fiction: how will such fables lead him to Zoe and to the truth?

As Tony's investigation deepens, he is drawn into a world where myth and history blur, and where women who risk all for love must pay the price through every generation.

This debut novel by Tasmanian author Christine Dibley unfolds at a mixed pace and through a number of different voices.

From the backcover blurb I’d envisaged Zoe’s family offering up various versions of her disappearance which isn’t the case. Everyone is upset, but surprisingly accepting of what’s happened… regretful, but ready to move on. Zoe’s (significantly older siblings) and father expect the worst, but her mother – Eva – believes Zoe to be safe and seems to take solace in the fact she may one day return.

I don’t tend to read fantasy novels. I’m not sure why, I just need more realism in my fiction. (I’m different incidentally, when it comes to my television viewing, but that’s a whole other story.)

I guess I would have been more comfortable with a more macabre or sinister element to Zoe’s disappearance, but Dibley still leaves enough mystery to keep readers wondering.

I really liked the time we spend with Tony – with whom I obviously connected – given I think of him as Tony rather than DI Vincent. He’s a complex and interesting lead and we’re offered some insight into his personal life and management style as well as his rise through the ranks to DI while still (only) in his mid 20s.

I must admit I occasionally got a bit confused about the characters. Not so much those in the present day, but those whose stories are relayed by Eva… the tales of her mother, grandmother, great grandmother and so forth. I’d have to remind myself which generation was which at times. It’s through these stories however, that Dibley also offers additional layers of context and grounds we readers a little… through references to Irish and Australian history.

There was a lot I enjoyed about this debut novel by Dibley: our lead character Tony who’s enchanted by the enigma that is the schoolgirl Zoe; and the impact our own ‘stories’ (our histories and beliefs) have on us AND our own mental health. I didn’t dislike the fantasy element, though would have been more at home with straight crime fiction. And, though I was glad it eventually came, I probably would have liked some analysis of the family’s reaction to Zoe’s disappearance earlier in the novel.

It occurs to me I’ve read a few books that have featured Tasmania of late, which is most welcome and I think this is a wonderful debut by Dibley.

To the Sea by Christine Dibley was published in Australia by PanMacmillan and is now available.

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

  • Maureen Beatrice
    December 28, 2016

    Sounds like an interesting read Deborah! Funny that this is a fantasy novel. You wouldn’t have guessed by reading the book blurb or seeing that cover.
    To bad you got a little confused at times. I’m really bad with names and keeping characters apart so this would have probably been a problem for me too. Still.. it sounds like an interesting read!
    Great review!

    • Debbish
      December 29, 2016

      Oh yes, it’s a good read. Most of the family history is told at once so I think I only had a problem keeping the characters straight as I put it down midway through and came back to it.

  • Helen
    February 5, 2017

    I really enjoyed this book but I found the ending frustrating. Was Tony being called into the sea? I didn’t understand that. I think a chapter from Zoe would have been great. What was she thinking? Where did she go when she entered the sea etc. too many unanswered questions for me.

    • Debbish
      February 6, 2017

      I don’t know enough about the myths of selkies and was a bit the same about the ending. Perhaps a chapter from Zoe then would have been great.

  • Jenny
    March 15, 2017

    Yes, what happened to Tony… I loved the story until that moment, I still feel cross!

    • Debbish
      March 16, 2017

      I wondered if there would be more to come…

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