Random House UK, Cornerstone
UK Pub Date: Mar 26 2015
One of the joys of reading is discovering new authors. There is nothing quite like finding someone new to read whether they be established writers or new voices, but there is always that something extra something special about first time authors. The author of The Shore is such a person. Describing herself as “a socially anxious product of rural Virginia and the homeschooling movement.” She is a young academic who after gaining a bachelor’s degree from Randolph College, crossed the pond to complete an MA in Prose Fiction at the University of East Anglia, where she remains working on a PhD in Creative and Critical Writing with a focus on censorship. Apparently, the genus of The Shore stems from stories she wrote as part of her senior honours project at Randolph.
Set in the Shore: a group of small islands in the Chesapeake Bay, just off the coast of Virginia, the book is a series of interconnecting narratives, crossing generations and time periods from 1876 to 2143. It is, in essence, a family history, or dual family history dipping as it does in and out of the lives of the descendents of Andrew Day and Medora Slater. Along the way we experience a young girl’s efforts to protect her younger sister against abuse by others, multiple instances of domestic violence, rape, patricide, poisoning, drug dealing, bootlegging, global plagues, rain making, love, and an ever present survival instinct. It is story predominantly about the women of the family and the brutality of their lives and of the majority of their menfolk. It had me gripped from the opening story. The writing and tone of the book immediately evoked authors like Marilynne Robinson and Jane Smiley for me. She shares with them an ability to seduce the reader into falling into the storyteller’s world, allowing us to submerging ourselves in the often choppy waters of the Shore’s residents even as we navigate the rapid and often wide jumps in time. The way in which she writes about nature and the land also has an authenticity in its simplicity “meat resists a blade in its own way, drags at it like an undertow drags at your feet”. Marvellous stuff.
Some might feel that there is too much similarity between the women in the collection, not enough clear delineation between where one character starts and other ends as the stories interconnect. Personally, I think that would be looking to find fault for the sake of it. Yes some of the characters do share traits – they do , after all, live in a remote self contained community – but each voice shone individually for me.
One of the things I liked most about The Shore is the fact that it works both as a novel and as a short story collection. Each story is good enough to stand alone: self contained. But there is an undeniable power created by bringing them together with the sum being more than the parts. I felt the same about Donal Ryan’s The Spinning Heart and The Thing About December , two of my favourite books from the previous 18 months, which accomplish the same feat, and with a similar skill . And like those books, and like any well plotted drama, you end wanting more. With The Shore, I did.
Taylor has set herself an impressive benchmark. Most authors go a lifetime without writing a book as good as this, and she has done so first time around. If I read any more than a hand full of books better this year I will be surprised. If her publishers Random House / Cornerstone haven’t already they should be starting to think about pushing this as their Booker prize contender 2015. Get those pre-orders in now