Katie and Mia are sisters and they are complete opposites. Katie is organised and responsible, while Mia doesn't last 5 minutes in a job and is very highly strung. They have been raised by their mother after their father left when they were very young. After their mother dies of cancer, Mia spontaneously decides to take a trip around the world with her best friend, Finn. Several months later, after only very sporadic contact from Mia, Katie is woken by a knock on the door in the middle of the night. Mia's body has been found at the foot of a cliff in Bali and the authorities have concluded that she committed suicide. Katie's reaction is one of disbelief - Mia wouldn't have done that. In the end, armed with Mia's travel journal, she decides to trace Mia's footsteps around the world in an effort to understand what was going through Mia's head and whether Mia killed herself or not.
This is an easy book to read and it's an interesting premise but the story hinges on so many unlikely coincidences and choices and that really undermined it for me. I couldn't imagine anyone behaving like Katie did. Your sister has killed herself on the other side of the world, you can't imagine what was going through her head and you're armed with her travel diary - so wouldn't you read it? Or talk to the friend who was travelling with her? But no, instead of doing any of these things - and despite the fact that she's getting married in four months' time - Katie books a three month trip for herself, deciding to go to all the places that Mia visited and only read the travel diary day by day, when she's in the same place where Mia was as she wrote each entry. So for example she spends a month travelling up and down the West Coast of Australia before even heading to Bali. It just doesn't feel even remotely realistic!
I also felt that the characters were hard to believe. They tended to behave in ways that served the plot rather than ways that real people would behave. Katie and Finn in particular felt quite under-developed to me. There are also lots of back stories between the various characters which will emerge over the course of the book. So what that means is that people withhold information so that it doesn't get revealed too early - Ed in particular does something midway through the book that I think he would actually have done much earlier (I won't explain further but if you've read the book you'll know what I mean).
So in summary, this is a good holiday read, undemanding and reasonably intriguing, with plenty of twists and a mystery that holds out till the end. However I didn't feel that it was in any way a standout. I did however like the descriptions of the places that Mia and Katie travel too - they really came alive for me and made me feel like slinging a backpack on myself!
In the UK, this book has been published under the title "The Sea Sisters".
"People go travelling for two reasons: because they are searching for something, or they are running from something."
That quote is an excellent introduction to Lucy Clarke's novel - Swimming at Night.
The opening pages introduce us to Katie - who has just received news that her younger sister Mia is dead. Mia took off six months ago to travel the world. The police say she committed suicide in Bali, but Katie cannot accept that verdict. When the police return Mia's backpack, Katie discovers Mia's travel journal inside. Impulsively, she decides to travel in Mia's footsteps, hoping to find some answers.
Clarke tells the story of these two sisters in alternating chapters. This format consistently grabs me - I always want to read just another chapter to see what happens next.
Clarke explores relationships in Swimming at Night - friends and lovers but most significantly - that of the sisters. Each sister remembers their childhood, their growing up years and their relationship as adults. Katie is the sensible, stable sister - Mia is the wild child. With every chapter, Clarke drops a few more hints as to what triggered the rift between the two.
"She hadn't told him about the terrible argument she's had with Mia. She hadn't told him of the hateful, shameful things she'd said. She hadn't told him about the anger and hurt that had been festering between them for months. She hadn't told Ed any of this because there are some currents in a relationship between sisters that are so dark and run so deep, it's better for the people swimming on the surface never to know what's beneath."
Excerpts from Mia's journal exposes even more - lies, secrets, hopes, dreams and - more clues as to what really happened to Mia.
I'm sure Clarke must have a sister - her exploration of this often complicated dynamic rings true. Both of the sister's narratives were equally compelling and well written. Certainly, I stopped more than once to consider my own relationship with my own sister. Clarke is an avid traveller herself and this showed in the lush descriptions of settings of Australia and Bali. Water is used very effectively as a metaphor for many aspects of the sister's relationship.
Definitely a recommended read - and especially for book clubs
on March 22, 2013
Swimming at Night by Lucy Clarke is a compelling story about life, family, secrets, jealousy, travel, and so much more. This is the type of story that will take you on a journey emotionally, and urge you to go out and discover your true self, too.
Swimming at Night is a truly great story. I love how it is written with both of the sisters, Mia and Katie, and their experiences. Although it is sad, it is also a story about courage and breaking out of your comfort-zone to become someone you didn't think you could be. I think that this is the biggest part of it that will make people relate to Katie, and truly remember her as one of those characters that sticks with you long after you finish reading her story.
This is the type of story that is highly captivating and could easily be read in a weekend (or night for you fast readers out there). The author alternates chapters with each of the sisters, making for a captivating read that you aren't ever quite sure where it will take you.
I really enjoyed reading this novel, and look forward to reading more by Lucy Clarke in the future. I highly recommend it.
* Thank you to the publisher of Swimming at Night, Touchstone, for providing me with a copy of this book for review. All opinions expressed are my own.
The Sea Sisters was inspired by the author's own habit of keeping a travel journal whenever she is away. It is awash with beautiful descriptions of San Francisco, Maui, Bali and Australia. This story is a record of Mia's travel journal which was returned to her sister, Katie, following her untimely death.
Mia was the wild child, a restless spirit whereas Katie is the sensible, organised one. However, eventually she throws caution to the wind to follow in Mia's footsteps and relive her sister's journeys. This subsequently leads her to a compelling finale, which allows her to realize the truth of Mia's passing and lets her, albeit very changed, move on with her own life.
This is a study of families. It documents the changing love-hate relationship that characterises the relationship of some sisters' bonds to each other. However, it also looks at brotherly relationships too - that between Noah and Jez and their youngest brother, Johnny who is also coincidentally dead. It is a story of the power of the truth to cause extreme pain, but also the damage done by leaving it unsaid.
Despite the beautiful settings, this is quite a dark novel, vaguely unsettling in parts. However some of the relationships, such as Katie's with her estranged father, seemed a little underdeveloped. A lot of the people involved seemed to be dead! The parallels between Noah's and Katie's families were just a bit to coincidental for me to really believe in and I felt the ending was just a little too trite. For all that this is a reasonable read.
on January 4, 2015
"Families and How to Survive Them" could have been an alternative title to this very readable novel (the original book with this title was written by John Cleese and his psychotherapist Robin Skynner and delves into the complex ties that lie at the heart of familial relationships).
Mia and Katie are sisters who have had quite a headstrong/volatile relationship, and their interactions form the backbone of the novel. Early in the book Mia dies in Bali, and the verdict is suicide. She leaves behind a diary/travelogue which is passed to Katie. Having that personal connection to her dead sister means a great deal to Katie.
Of course, she has real difficulty processing her sister’s death and she feels she can only do this by following in her sister's travelling footsteps, it is the only way she will get some understanding. She decides to use the diary as her guide, until she eventually arrives in Bali. What more will she learn about Mia’s death?
As the novel gets going, it becomes ever more clear that Katie and Mia come from a hugely dysfunctional family, with a lot of loss around. It almost beggars belief that one family, not to mention one individual, can harbour so many hidden secrets, which of course have a way of impacting on present behavior and choice of life partner.
There is Finn, Mia’s docile travelling companion, who accompanies her on her trip. Lovelorn Finn, what to do with him? Mia certainly wasn’t picking up the signs he was sending thick and fast to her, too involved in her own corkscrew affairs (I leave the definition of 'affair' open). And Katie, engaged to steady Ed, who supports her through thick and thin, but has a bit of a revelation...
The backstory in all its depressing detail, and the lack of boundaries in this family emerge like a blight on the young peoples' lives, which, coupled with family secrets (never a good thing) become truly heart sinking, yet nevertheless very compelling.
The structure of the book is unusual, one chapter is devoted to Mia, via her diary entries, the next is Katie following up her footsteps. This feels like quite a linear way of conceiving a storyline, it does work, but there are occasions – particularly with the shorter chapters - when a particular scenario stops, just as it is getting going, story interruptus. Then the next one resumes. In some ways it almost feels like a domino game, where the same numbers abut each other, the next number is random and leaves the way open for a new mini adventure to begin.
It is certainly a story with descriptions of lush locale, where the smells, the sounds and the sights all pulse into the reader's consciousness. It is very much a racing page-turner. I was left with a haunting sense of the people and the locations, but an overriding sense of how timely therapy might actually have enabled a different outcome. But these are characters in a book and not real people, and you will take them into your heart as they plough the minefield that is their story.
on July 26, 2014
The first part of the novel was very good; the persons were well presented, the content was soon exciting. Then suddenly the story turned into beeing a cheep lovestory, where the persons in the story became linked together in a threesome dramatic cheep lovestory kind of way!
on August 5, 2013
I thoroughly enjoyed the book, which I had bought after reading the existing reviews.
However, I would have wished for a somewhat more "definite" ending. As so often these days, one is left a little up in the air at the end of the book.
I also thought too much "benefit" was given to the one sister, who was pretty feckless and actually very selfish but was presented as a "free spirit" - perhaps excuses for behaving badly !
Enough said - I do not want to spoil the story for others.
"There are some currents in a relationship between sisters that are so dark and run so deep, it's better for the people swimming on the surface never to know what's beneath."
I've read a couple of books lately that weave a story around the relationship between sisters, and I find that the authors -- who are all women -- have the same essential emotions as parts of that relationship: love, protectiveness, competition, comparison, anger, jealousy, yes and even hate. Of course these feelings are common to all relationships, and not exclusive to sisters, but definitely any sibling bond approaches and experiences them uniquely. Growing up together especially both seals and tests that bond and I would say it is also affected by how close they are to each other in age and stage of life. Very often, it seems, sisters strive to be DIFFERENT from each other and thus it is almost a cliche that one sister will be the "responsible one" and the other will be headstrong and adventurous.
In this debut novel, Katie and Mia are those sisters. Katie is the elder and falls into her role as the good student, helpful daughter, efficient employee, lucky fiancee while Mia seems directionless and suddenly gets the urge to experience a bohemian lifestyle and travel with her best male friend, Finn, soon after their mother's death. When Katie gets the news that Mia has died in Bali, apparently a suicide, she steps out of character, chucks her job and leaves her fiance, Ed, to use Mia's journal as her own travel guide. She follows in Mia's footsteps as she reads the journal entries seeking to discover why Mia would take her own life. Although I found this to be fairly implausible and rife with some unbelievable coincidences to advance the story, the journey Katie takes leads her to self-discovery as Mia's thoughts and revelations soothe, shock, and surprise. Mia's complicated life is told through the diary as well as with flashbacks of both Katie and Mia's past and in both points of view. Katie's experiences while retracing her sister's path help her see their relationship much more clearly and lead to an understanding of her sister and herself.
I found both characters (Katie and Mia) interesting but the males in the novel less so. The first part of the book drug a bit but picked up with incredible speed after the halfway point. It would make a great vacation book and I suggest you just suspend any disbelief and enjoy the trip! It definitely gave me the travel bug as the descriptions of the places the girls visited were amazingly enticing and I could almost smell the salt tinged air and feel the sea spray on my face! I love the ocean and could imagine the pounding surf against the cliffs and see the tides rolling in and out.
ARC courtesy of NetGalley
on September 20, 2014
what a breathtaking story. unputdownable. the reader is drawn in to the very end with lots of twists and turns. the story is inviting and captivating taking one to various spots all over the world. makes me wish I was able to drop and go!
on April 23, 2016
I enjoyed reading this book: the further along it went, the more intriguing it became.
Others have written that they don't understand the characters or the situations; but life is strange. I had no problem finding the characters credible. Read this in one sitting, on a day I could do that. One point of inaccuracy though: Noah was raised in Melbourne Australia, as was I . He lived a few streets from the beach and used to watch the older guys riding the waves when he was a kid, and this led to his love of surfing; and to his skill, able to surf professionally.
Melbourne Australia has no surf beaches. It is on a sheltered bay.
The famous surf beaches of the area, including Bells Beach and Torquay, are several hours drive out of the city.
Apart from this inaccuracy, I enjoyed the story and the denouement.