review by Maryom
When his home is destroyed and his life torn apart by a nightmarish flood, Gavin Weald finds himself adrift and unable to settle back to his normal life. All he has left is his daughter Océan and his dog Suzy - and his boat, Romany. Having reached breaking point, Gavin decides to run away to sea. Journeying from Trinidad north towards Panama and 'west and then west again', he hopes they will find peace. After initial hiccoughs, the three of them settle into their voyage of discovery through unknown waters to islands of unbelievable beauty where they find flamingos, shoals of fish playing round coral reefs, free roaming iguanas - but even here there are signs of man's destructiveness; there are oil refineries scattered among the desert islands and tourism threatens the wildlife that brings it. Beyond Panama, the Pacific beckons but even out there in the endless ocean can Gavin escape his past? or is it set to return?
Archipelago is a hauntingly beautiful novel of loss and rebuilding. The reader is swept along on an almost magical voyage through the islands of the Caribbean. "World-building" is a concept normally associated with sci-fi or fantasy but that is just what Roffey has done here. I've never been to the Caribbean (and I'm not likely too; my dream islands of white sand and turquoise seas lie much further north) but I really felt I was there. There's lots of details about boats and sailing, geography and wildlife to bring the journey to life but this is more than a travelogue. In trying to live out a dream he had when younger, Gavin embarks on a journey of self-discovery. The practicalities of life on the boat start to bring him out of the stupor he's sunk into and the events which so devastated his life are gradually revealed as memories seep through the mental barriers he's built up. The story is supposed to end on upbeat note but I found the events in the latter stage of the journey totally heartbreaking.
Archipelago is a beautiful and compelling read that I've come a little late to as it was languishing on the TBR pile with each of us expecting the other to read it. In some ways despite a very different setting in time and place it reminded me of Inman's journey back to Cold Mountain - and even Homer's original Odyssey! I'm extremely glad to have been the one to pick it up and will now be looking out for more from Monique Roffey.
Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Simon & Schuster
Genre - literary fiction
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