I pre-ordered and bought this book direct from the publisher of my own choice. This review forms my honest opinion.
Ted Marshall meets Rene in the dancehalls of Morecambe and they marry during the frail optimism of the 1950s. They adopt the roles expected of man and wife at the time: he the breadwinner at the family ceramics firm, and she the loyal housewife. But as the years go by, they find themselves wishing for more… After Ted survives a heart attack, both see it as a new beginning…but can a faded love like theirs ever be rekindled?
I discovered indie publisher, Louise Walters Books a couple of years ago, and although I initially started out being sent a review copy, I now always pre-order my own copy of the latest releases as soon as possible not only because Louise has such impeccable taste, but because I want to do my bit to support this wonderful publisher so that the books I’ve been so enjoying, books which are often a little bit quirky, keep being released.
In The Sweep of the Bay by Cath Barton is one I was very much looking forward to. Having sampled Cath’s writing previously, I already had a fair idea that I’d enjoy the writing style, and the concept of this lovely novella appealed too.
An examination of marriage, of gender roles and how the pressures of a life together so often lead to distance. The pivotal couple, Ted and Rene meet and marry in the 1950s, with Rene in particular curtailing any thought of her own ambitions to take on the role of housewife and later, mother. As the novella progresses decade by decade, expectations and attitudes change at pace in the wider world, whilst children are added to their family along with resentment, suspicion and an ever widening gap.
The writing invites you in, beckons you to observe the characters, their lives and muse over how things could have been so different. It’s a book I devoured within the day, and whilst short in length it is full to the brim of insightful observations that certainly had me nodding along, because there were people and moments I recognised throughout. It’s a wonderful read, and yet at times frustrating. Not bad frustrating, but the kind when you’re watching a quiz show and the answer seems so obvious that you find yourself on your feet shrieking like a banshee at a screen. I so badly wanted to bosh their heads together and lock them in a room, forcing them to talk. A lifetime of biting tongues leading, for them, to a stifling cloak of disappointment laid over their lives.
I also loved the offshoot stories which play out in the background and tie up neatly with the very first chapter, which is set in 2009. The tentative thread that serves to include Vincenzo, and his relationship with Henry, a reminder of just how small our world is at times, but also of how rapidly things have progressed within the lifetime of the main characters. There is also the ever present Madge, and later Rene and Ted’s daughters, Dot and Peg, and even later, their granddaughter Cecily. There are moments of joy and togetherness, but there’s an overwhelming sadness woven throughout the narrative, however for me it was a sadness which inspires introspection and action.
One of the things I was most impressed when reading was just how much the author managed to fit in to just over 100 pages. I so often find lulls and dips when reading full sized novels, my mind often wandering, and I absolutely adore reading well written novellas such as this. Whilst economic in length, nothing is lost in terms of place, characterisations, story or impact.
Gentle and yet intelligent in its perceptions, In The Sweep of the Bay is a beautifully written novella; an achingly human representation of life, love and regret.