Sheerwater by Leah Swann

‘Ava felt the sea move in her blood before she saw it.’

Ava is fleeing an abusive marriage.  With her sons Max and Teddy, she’s driving to a town on the coast of Victoria, hoping to make a fresh start.  They are almost to Sheerwater when they witness a light plane crashing into a field next to the road.  Ava is the first person on the scene and stops to help.  She tells the boys to stay in the car.  Minutes later, after pulling the pilot from the plane and after others have arrived on the scene, she returns to the car.  The boys are gone.  Where are they?

‘Who are you?’

Failed relationships.  Missing children.  As we join Ava in her desperate search to find her sons, we learn about her relationship with Laurence.  Superficially charming, Laurence is prone to rapid mood changes and can be violent.  Ava has taken out a restraining order.  But Ava’s mother sees only that Laurence is charming and thinks that Ava is overreacting.

The story unfolds over three days, and is mainly told by Ava, Laurence and Max.  Max is only 9 years old and looks out for his 4-year-old brother.  I kept turning pages, hoping that Ava, or the police, or anyone really, would find (and rescue) these two boys.  Other (sketchier) characters provide part of the story, and the tension builds.  Can the boys be rescued?

I don’t want to write more about the story because I can’t do so without spoilers.  Suffice to say that sadly (and often tragically) domestic violence is far too common in Australia.  Victims are often not believed, or are blamed, for their circumstances.  Perpetrators can be simultaneously charming and violent, capable of twisting the truth to suit themselves.

I finished the novel profoundly saddened.  If only such stories could be confined to fiction.  This is Ms Swann’s first novel: it’s a powerful story and will haunt me for some time.

Note: My thanks to NetGalley and HarperCollins Publishers Australia for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith