“She closes her eyes. My old friend, she thinks, my home, my sanctuary.“
Kate Sawyer ~ The Stranding
Ruth lives in the heart of the city. Working, drinking, falling in love: the rhythm of her vivid and complicated life there is set against a background hum of darkening news reports from which she deliberately turns away.
As a new relationship becomes increasingly claustrophobic, and the discussions of impending political crisis are harder to avoid, she starts to dream of water; of escaping entwining tentacles through deep blue seas. She sets out to the other side of the globe to find that vision of freedom, and to decide who she wants to be when she returns.
But when she arrives at her destination, she finds instead that the world, and life, she left behind no longer exist.
Perhaps, that which we think we need in order to survive, may not be what actually matters.
I have not stopped thinking about this book. I don’t know if it’s because the last year has been so extraordinary that the idea of the apocalypse is quite believable or because I’ve flown to New Zealand many times and have considered that anything could happen while I’m in the air… Whatever it is, this book has stayed with me weeks after I finished it.
Kate Sawyer’s debut novel The Stranding switches between past (London) and present (North Island, New Zealand), showing Ruth’s life before – where she was navigating city life (drinking, affairs, work, imposter syndrome etc). – and after – where she is quite literally trying to survive in New Zealand after a major disaster.
Before, Ruth wanted to find herself. She was dealing with an OK job, a controlling boyfriend and didn’t feel fulfilled. Social media, alcohol, the pressure to settle down… all of them very familiar as we present our ‘perfect’ self to the world and see how ‘happy’ everyone else is.
But now, Ruth has lost everything. She has no family, no friends and no photos – just memories and determination to stay alive.
This book could’ve been really depressing. It’s certainly sad in places and shocking in others, but Sawyer doesn’t focus on the negatives. Yes the book deals with grief but primarily, it’s about life, love and hope. Ruth’s relationship with Alex (London) is very different to the one she has with Nik (NZ). It’s love but it’s not the same. Is it based on necessity? Or companionship? Either way, it feels genuine.
New Zealand is a huge contrast from Ruth’s life in London where things were frantic, busy and constant. Life in NZ is slower anyway but the days (weeks, months, years) after the incident are all very similar. In a way it’s nice that there isn’t a lot of peril or drama. It makes their survival resonate all the more because that is all that they are doing. Surviving for each other and for their children. What is more important than that?
Was the ending predictable? Yes. But it feels appropriate, works well in the circumstances and was preferable to something more sinister or underwhelming.
The writing style is beautiful and that’s partly what makes the book so memorable. This is a well-written, believable story of survival. It does drag a little towards the end and jumps forward many years in one go which could be slightly confusing. There are also many unanswered questions and some unrealistic moments, but overall this is a poignant story that is likely to stay with the reader for a long time.
I was provided with a copy of this book by Grazia, for their monthly book club discussion. All opinions my own.
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