The Breakers by Claudie Gallay

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The Breakers by Claudie Gallay

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Louise Laurie
Reviewed by Louise Laurie
Summary: Translated from the French, this book is all about the power of the sea. A small coastal community shares its secrets where the sea, the waves, the ocean ... is the main player.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 416 Date: August 2011
Publisher: MacLehose Press
ISBN: 978-1906694715

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The book is in the first person, told by a woman who is a relative newcomer to this tiny village, no more than a cluster of homes and a few basic amenities. The story opens in the lead-up to a horrendous storm. The narrator has seen nothing like it before and is both afraid and excited. The locals take it all in their stride. They're a hardy bunch of disparate individuals and we get to know more them, one by one, as the story develops.

Gallay likes her descriptive prose. Even although the breakers (which give the book its title) are crashing, the wind is howling and it's raining cats and dogs, it's all down on the page in a rather drawn out, elongated manner. It's almost soporific which is not the effect I was expecting and Gallay's writing style did not really go down all that well with me personally. Coupled with that, most of the conversations are drawn out to include the briefest of detail. We're told, as readers, that in times of extreme weather, that the local men will react in such-and-such a way and the women in another.

Soon a second strangers appears on the scene. A man called Lambert. He simply drops into the local bar one day and upsets the mood. Undercurrents, tittle-tattle and gossip start. But is there a tiny bit of truth there? The woman who runs the local bar gives the impression that she knows this Lambert from 'way back'. All becomes clear - but in a build-up which culminates towards the end of the book.

Fairly early on the reader is given quite a bit of info on the narrator. What her job is, how she came by it, how she has decided to live frugally and without complaint etc. There are hints here and there that she's running away from a painful past - a love gone wrong perhaps.

As the locals are introduced, each one seems more eccentric that the last. Just how many 'eccentrics' can you pack into a tiny village, I'm thinking. A few have nicknames like Old Mother. But I was finding it a little difficult to connect with the characters and even the storyline, if I'm honest. I didn't feel particularly involved.

Having said that, I can appreciate Gallay's theme: she choose the negatives over the positives to write about here. So, we have lives previously lost at sea, grieving relatives many years on, the difficult work of a lighthouse-keeper and not least the weird things thrown up on the beach by the sea after storms. For example, I found the broken body of the huge gull ... there were pieces of beams, remnants of crates ... The shore was covered with a fringe of thick yellow foam ... there were clumps of seaweed like long tresses of hair flung down in disgust.

All of this - and similar gave the book a melancholic air. I fond most of it just a little grim, a little depressing, no light and shade. But then, that's my personal opinion: the craft of the author is not in question here. That said, while I was luke-warm most of the way through, I was moved by a handful of pages right at the end - so it just goes to show, doesn't it?

The storyline is slow and unhurried, in keeping with the theme of the book. The two newcomers strike up an uneasy friendship. And they both come across interesting, but also moody and brittle locals. But we do find out why, in most cases.

A novel with the sea and its destructive powers at its core. If you like your fiction with a healthy dose of bracing sea air and plenty of evocative descriptions, then this book may just suit.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.

If this book appeals then you might like to try The Blind Side of the Heart by Julia Franck.

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Buy The Breakers by Claudie Gallay at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Breakers by Claudie Gallay at


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