I read Kate Duignan‘s novel, Breakwater, because she is related to a friend of mine and because I set a goal of reading and reviewing more New Zealand fiction this year. More than that, Duignan was the 2004 Robert Burns fellow at the University of Otago, so I was curous about her 2001 book.
The book centres around Louise, owner of the Breakwater cafe in Wellington and single mother of adult children. Their lives are first impacted by the introduction of Ella, a newly inpregnated university student brought home by Louise’s daughter, Tess. Louise is the significant adult in the story of young twenty-somethings sorting out their pathways in life with regards to careers and relationships. A car accident interupts all of this, diverting attentions and priorities.
It is a very well written book. Her prose is clean with an uncomplicated vocabulary, both which I appreciate. Breakwater is written in third person perspective with present tense. I found this awkward to read until about the last quarter of the book. I felt physical relief during flashback scenes written in the past tense. This is one of those things that are difficult to highlight as either positive or negative in a book because of the subjective response of the reader. There are good reasons for writing in this way, but I was just slow to adapt or resistent to adapting.
The prose suited the storyline and characters who, for the most part, are very ordinary. This is realistic fiction, with realistic dialogue. In one sense, the book should be admired for this as Duignan captures a real slice of life for these characters. However, with persistent realistic dialogue or long narrative passages about a character’s choice of career or an entire chapter detailing a child’s birth, comes the risk of dwelling on the mundane. Not that child-birth is a mundane event – it just didn’t make for fascinating fiction for me. I found myself skimming sections. The car accident and teen birth should serve as more dramatic events, but these are two storylines that draw yawns from me, probably because I read about these in my students’ writing to excess.
This is a character-driven book, however, and there are some good ones. While I didn’t truly appreciate the Ella story-line or learn to love the stolid Louise, I did enjoy Tess as soon as I met her as well as Chris. Unfortunately, both characters recede into the background through the middle of the book. But the end scenes with Chris and Jacob in the car and when Chris finally visits Tess in hospital are almost powerful.
Buy Breakwater on Amazon.
This is my last review for awhile – it’s time to delve deeper into my own writing once again. I’m pleased with my efforts to read and review more New Zealand fiction this year. Here are links to those reviews I’ve written so far:
The Crossing – Mandy Hager
Ripple – Tui Allen
Strangers and Journeys – Maurice Shadbolt
In the Shadow of the Hills – Cate Sutherland
The Luminaries – Eleanor Catton
Phenomena: The Lost and Forgotten Children – Susan Tarr
The Keeper of Secrets – Julie Thomas
Black Dove – Stuart Campbell
Antony Millen is a Canadian living and writing in New Zealand and the author of Redeeming Brother Murrihy: The River to Hiruharama and Te Kauhanga: A Tale of Space(s).