Aussie Book Review: Running Against the Tide by Amanda Ortlepp
“Erin Travers is running away from her life and taking her two sons with her to a small town on the ruggedly beautiful Eyre Peninsula. The close-knit township is full of happy childhood memories for Erin, but she’s bringing a whole lot of baggage with her.
When the peaceful community is disrupted by theft and arson, rumours fly about who is responsible. In a small town where lives are tangled too closely together, old grudges flare, fingers are pointed and secrets are unmasked.
From the bestselling author of Claiming Noah, Running Against the Tide is brimming with malice and threat and cements Amanda Ortlepp as one of Australia’s most compelling storytellers.”
Erin Travers is trying to start a new life with her two teenage sons in the tiny fictional town of Mallee Bay, situated in a rugged and isolated coastal region of the Eyre Peninsula, Australia’s “seafood frontier” - but things don’t seem to get off to a good start.
To begin with, the house she’s rented (sight unseen) turns out to be a dilapidated weatherboard cottage that needs more than a bit of TLC and Ryan, her fifteen year old son, is not saying much.
When Erin enters a painting competition and wins first prize, she feels as though things are beginning to look up for the three of them and hopes that Ryan will begin to settle just as his brother, Mike, has done and begin communicating more meaningfully with her.
Their friendly neighbours, Jono and Helen are lovely, if somewhat curious about the newcomers, which doesn’t do much to put Erin at ease but it’s when strange things begin to happen such as her competition prize cheque being stolen; the roses that someone planted in her garden suddenly being uprooted and left in her bedroom; threatening notes are pushed under her door; and her lovingly restored shed is set alight, that her discomfort levels really begin to rise.
And then there’s the fact that Jono is having trouble with thefts from his oyster farming lease, Ryan isn’t exactly being a model child and the whole town has become unsettled.
With my hectic work/life/reviewing schedule these days, it’s been a while since I finished a book so quickly. It took me only two days of snatched time here and there to read this but that’s also due, in part, to Amanda Ortlepp’s relaxed writing style and the manner in which she keeps the pace going by frequently shifting perspectives between her characters.
Told from the perspectives of Erin, Jono and Ryan, Amanda swiftly gets us to the core of all the issues they are faced with, using her secondary characters to add depth and tension to these narratives.
Admittedly, I thought I knew exactly the path that this book was going to take but Amanda really surprised me and, while I’m not going to go into too much detail about the characters for fear of giving anything away, believe me when I say that they are complex, unpredictable and interesting and should definitely not be taken at face value.
As in real life, appearances can be deceiving so, whilst reading this novel, be careful where your loyalties lie because Amanda blurs the focus so well that by the time the story climaxes and goes into denouement, every belief you once held about every character will be shattered. Whether, on one level or another, you connect with them sympathetically or unsympathetically, the big question that will remain right to the end is, who is behind it all?
Touching on the differences between the younger and older generations, gambling addiction and the destruction it can wreak on a family unit, domestic violence and bullying, Amanda leads the reader down many false trails, bringing us a provocative tale laced with deception, displacement, obsession and resentment in a tone that consistently leaves the reader with an intense sense of dread and underlying malevolence which, for some, might just mean there will be no happy ending!
Thrilling and engrossing, Amanda has done an impressive job in writing this novel. Weaving the strands together in such a manner that we feel the same sense of urgency, disbelief and hurt as her characters, her second novel is well-paced and gripping with a profound almost claustrophobic sense of place, a deep sense of character and enough red herrings to keep you guessing.
In my view Amanda has reinforced herself as an author to watch and I cannot wait to see what she has in store for us next.
I wish to thank the publisher, Simon and Schuster Australia, for providing me with a hard copy ARC for review.
About the Author
Amanda Ortlepp is a Sydney-based writer, born in Adelaide in 1981.
As a child she was a voracious reader with ambitions of one day becoming an author. Instead she completed a Bachelor of Commerce degree after high school, followed by a Masters of Applied Finance, and spent a decade working in marketing and communication roles. It was only after she turned thirty that she revisited her love of fiction and started writing at nights and on weekends while working full-time.
In 2015 her debut novel, Claiming Noah, was published in Australia and New Zealand and became a bestseller. Its ethical dilemmas and emotionally-charged themes struck a chord with mothers and book clubs in particular and will be available in the US and Canada from July 2016.