Death and the Seaside, by Alison Moore, introduces the reader to two women whose lives overlap with devastating results.
Bonnie is approaching her thirtieth birthday but her life has been stunted, much to the frustration of her overbearing parents who regard their daughter as clumsy and incapable. Her mother is constantly impatient with her daughter. Her father systematically puts her down. When they require her to move out of the family home she finds a small flat in a converted house owned by Sylvia, an enigmatic landlady who starts to take an invasive interest in the detail of Bonnie’s life.
Bonnie is an aspiring writer. She is well read and studied English Literature at university. Having dropped out in her final year she did not graduate and now works as a cleaner. She is not the most reliable of employees, struggling to find work and rarely holding down any job for long.
The book opens with a chapter from Bonnie’s latest story. She starts many stories but takes none to completion. It soon becomes clear that her stories are variations and reflections of her own life.
Sylvia mentions early on that she had met Bonnie and her mother when Bonnie was a child but does not elaborate. She offers little of her own background, the burgeoning friendship being one way and controlling. Bonnie has few friends and welcomes attention from whatever source.
Sylvia reads Bonnie’s latest story and encourages her to write more. When Bonnie is unable to tell her the planned ending she suggests that they take a holiday at the setting of the tale, a seaside town Bonnie visited as a child, in order to generate inspiration. Bonnie is excited to be taking a holiday with a friend despite her accommodation requests being ignored.
A sinister undercurrent pervades the tale. On the surface it is is a variation on the theme of a lonely young women who is influenced by a stronger personality. Lurking unsaid is what Sylvia wants from Bonnie and why.
The pleasure of reading is in the detail: Bonnie’s apparent acceptance of her oppressive existence; her relationship with work colleagues, young men, her constantly critical parents. Bonnie appears adrift in the world. Her knowledge of literature and the intelligence this suggests belying the current state of her life.
As Sylvia’s background is revealed the plot takes a sinister turn. The reader is left with much to ponder about influences, known and unknown.
At 160 pages this is not a long read. For the size of the work it packs a mighty, subversive punch.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Salt.