A novel that shows how ordinary people can be extraordinary.
This novel is about the Roberts family who live in Dover, England. In particular, it is about Martha Roberts – wife, mother, and long distance swimmer.
We first meet Martha when she is ten years old. An accidental fall into the sea started her life-long love affair with the ocean.
“I kept thinking about the moments just before Jim rescued me when I recognized the water as something magical.”
Martha married John Roberts in 1958. Keep in mind that this was a time when gender roles were clear – and very defined. There was men’s work, and women’s work. It was also a time when intolerance was the norm…
To say that Martha loved the sea would be an understatement. The sea was where she felt most at home – bringing her solace, and she swam everyday. When John proposed, he thought his love would be enough to take her out of the water. He was right, but only for a while. After almost ten years of being a dutiful wife and mother of two, Martha’s dreams of swimming the English Channel overrode everything else. She wanted to be more than a wife, more than a mother.
“She was a different person in the water. On land she could be clumsy
but in the water she had grace and strength.”
Thus, Martha began training for a Channel crossing. She went to the beach everyday. Folding her clothes beneath a myrtle bush, she religiously swam in all weathers. The myrtle bush was her talisman. She took a cutting of the bush and began to grow one in the garden of her house.
We come to meet Martha and John’s neighbour, Henry. A lonely man who lives alone, he makes himself invaluable to the Roberts family.
We meet Martha’s grown son Iain, and her grown daughter, Harriet.
Over the years, Martha makes the twenty-one hour swim across 20.7 mile English Channel on nine separate occasions. Her tenacity, strength, dedication and commitment saw her through the pain, the bone-chilling cold, the punishing currents, the jellyfish stings, the tongue swollen from the salt… as she swam in the busiest stretch of water in the world.
“Maybe the point of life was to get to the moment where all you needed was to gaze at another person’s face, one you knew better than your own, reading the lines and wrinkles that marked out the years you had spent together.”
We follow Martha and John into their seventies. The life of these ordinary people takes a tragic turn…
“Good news arrives at reasonable hours but bad news barges in, possessing neither the restraint nor the decency to wait.”
“The last wave” is a well-crafted debut novel about a remarkable woman and her family. I found the pace a bit slow at times, but the narrative kept my interest throughout. Like life itself, it contains moments of joy AND moments of tragedy. The story about a loving though dysfunctional family was told in a bold, realistic way. A book of love, loss, responsibility, hurt, forgiveness, aging, and illness. It shows how passions can often skip a generation.
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I received a complimentary digital copy of this novel from House of Anansi via NetGalley.
Gillian Best is a writer, swimmer, and seaside enthusiast.
Her debut novel, The Last Wave, is published in Canada and the USA by House of Anansi Press.
Gillian was chosen by CBC Books as one of 17 Writers to Watch in 2017.
Originally from Waterloo, Canada, Gillian has been living in the UK for the best part of twelve years. Arriving in Falmouth to study for her Masters in Professional Writing, she later went on to receive her PhD in Creative Writing and English Literature from the University of Glasgow. She currently lives, works, and swims in Bristol, UK.