Body Surfing by Anita Shreve

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Body Surfing by Anita Shreve

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: After divorcing one husband and being widowed by another Sydney takes a job as a tutor in a beach-front house. This story of what happens when simmering tensions are left unresolved is highly recommended by Bookbag.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 304 Date: March 2007
Publisher: Little, Brown
ISBN: 978-0316730693

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Sydney Sklar has a most unfortunate marital history. Her first husband was an air racer. Initially Sydney found the races exhilarating and then she found them frightening. Eventually she could take no more and the couple divorced. Andrew was sad to see her go, but didn't offer to give up air racing. Her second husband was a doctor - a much safer prospect. After only eight months of marriage a brain aneurism left him dead on the floor of one of the best teaching hospitals in the world. Numb with shock and not yet thirty Sydney took a job tutoring an eighteen-year-old girl at her parents' beach house in New Hampshire. She lived as one of the family, a part of it but somehow apart. Body Surfing is the story of the summer she lived in the house and afterwards.

I regularly hear books described as being 'real page turners' or 'impossible to put down' but it's rare for the book to live up to the hype. For the first time in a long time I found a book that didn't leave my hands from the moment I started it until I closed it at four o'clock in the morning. It would be an insult to say that this book was 'written'. It was beautifully crafted from the most perfect words available: sometimes I found myself rereading sentences just because they were so right. Anita Shreve is equally at home with physical landscapes and human emotions - her descriptions of both are evocative. Her insights into people are wise and forgiving.

It's an exceptional story too. The background is better than the stuff of most books. It begins as a gentle, sympathetic story of the young woman, still numb with shock after all that has befallen her, tutoring Julie, the Edwards' youngest child. Julie's a little slow, but has some unexpected talents which begin to emerge under Sydney's flexible tutelage. She starts to blossom in other areas too. But it's when her two older brothers, Jeff and Ben, come to the beach house that the dynamics of the family begin to shift and change. It's a story of what happens when old grievances remain unresolved and simmer beneath the surface. It's about how cruel families can be to one another but ultimately it's about hope against all the odds.

I loved the people. They somehow got under my skin. Sydney is an inspirational heroine - resilient despite all that happens to her and prepared to look to the future. Even relatively minor characters are fully-fleshed: Mr Edwards, kindly and unassuming in contrast to his wife, inclined to bitchiness and being difficult. It's small touches such as the minister we never meet who leaves a motoring magazine on the bathroom floor. I missed all these people when I finished the book and I wanted to know how they got on.

Body Surfing is the fourth novel set in the same New England beach-front house. Each tells the story of different women who have lived in the house over the years. They can all be read as stand-alone books but the feeling that the house has a history adds to the texture of the story. If this type of book appeals to you then you might also enjoy After You'd Gone by Maggie O'Farrell which also looks at grief or Rupert Thomson's Death of a Murderer. This book has the same elegant prose as Shreve's writing and looks at why things go wrong. It's a book for people who don't just want answers. You might also enjoy Five Bells by Gail Jones.

My thanks to the lovely people at Little, Brown who sent this book.

Booklists.jpg Body Surfing by Anita Shreve is in the Top Ten Beach Reads For Girls.

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