Abbie has come through a difficult divorce from Keith, who recently became a best-selling author of books for children and now lives with Fiona, his illustrator. Abbie is trying to build a new life in Dundee with her 11-year-old twin girls. Her friend Kate persuades her to try internet dating and after a couple of false starts she meets Bill. Their first meeting, which includes a walk across Lunan Bay, goes well and Abbie is optimistic. But when the twins start to have nightmares and behave badly at school, Abbie can't help but wonder if her new relationship with Bill is somehow responsible. When the truth emerges, it is far from anything Abbie expected and strains the family to breaking point.
The ‘Send’ Button
Review by Kay Green
‘Low Tide, Lunan Bay’ is Rosalie Warren’s second novel and I’ve been waiting for it eagerly. Her work to date shows a canny ability to draw the reader into intimate sympathy with imperfect people. Warren enters the battle that is their lives and illuminates the ‘big issues’ we are all facing out in the world right now, sometimes as surprisingly subtle influencing factors, sometimes as full-on, opposing armies.
Abbie, the central character of ‘Low Tide, Lunan Bay’ is ‘an ordinary woman in her late thirties, washed up on a beach from her previous marriage.’ Her friend suggests an internet dating site to kick-start her new life, and, with trepidation, Abbie sets about creating her online ‘personality’. She finds herself wondering if she has a personality to begin with. She finds she has thought of ‘personality’ as something ‘interesting and difficult’ people have, that she has to ‘put up with’.
‘It’s not lying’ her friend (who definitely has a personality) assures her, having embroidered Abbie’s profile somewhat. ‘It’s the same thing you do every time you put on your make-up and get dressed to go out.’
She goes on to explain that Abbie can create any number of internet ‘personalities’ for herself, and when she creates one that really pleases her, she can carry it into real life.
Reading this, a part of my mind was busy weighing up whether the white lies and assumed names they were playing with were any better or worse than the lines one hears people spinning at social gatherings. As for every day realities, Abbie ‘…put in a brief mention of the twins, but said nothing about her ex-husband…. It felt good, leaving Keith out.’
Now I was comparing Abbie’s actions with those of government ‘spin doctors’ who insist that they never actually lie, and I’m pondering the ‘truth’ that certain elements of the media offer us. But back to Abbie… During the website postings and emails that followed, ‘she saw herself as a stranger might. Someone who had only known her a few days.’
That struck me as precisely what a woman in her situation needs, when trying to pull herself out of the long-worn role of wife-and-mother. But by this point, there is danger in the air and soon, Abbie is exchanging personal, emotional emails with her e-friend, telling him about her divorce, her depression – her vulnerabilities – without the benefit of ‘…subtle movements – those bits of body language that gave people away no matter how much they might try to hide.’ Any minute now, I thought, Abbie’s going to be face to face with one of those horribly clever internet stalkers.
A few pages on, and Abbie is about to take the plunge. She sits at her computer, looking at the ‘send’ icon and contemplating the fact that, no matter how many times you re-read an email, there is going to be that moment where you hit ‘send’ and then there’s no going back.
Meanwhile in the real world, the newspapers debate whether a recent bunch of injudicious emails and blog postings could prove to be the nemesis of the current government. In my home town, the local paper tells how a row which began with the careless forwarding of an email has resulted in the suspension of a councillor. In my own life, a friend awaits the birth of her first child – the child of a man she ‘met’ on an internet forum, who courted her by email, and caused us all some sleepless nights the first time she jumped on a plane to go halfway round the world, unaccompanied, to meet her chosen one.
My daughter tells me there is no reason why talking to a stranger on the internet is any more fraught with danger than trying to get to know someone in the pub – and I can’t really see any reason to argue – but…
But why do we spend so much time debating whether our children are at risk? It is me, mother and grandmother, who spends the most time on forums, who is most enamoured of that fascinating moment when you meet in the flesh someone you’ve e-known for months. Silver surfers are a sizable force on the web, and most of the marriages which result from internet meetings are second marriages.
Warren’s plots deal with ‘ordinary’ issues – how to get on with your mother or introduce your new boyfriend to the kids, but they read like thrillers because the writing is clean and the subject matter mercilessly true to life. In ‘Low Tide, Lunan Bay’, when a recently divorced father loses his temper with his son, the reader is breathless as he struggles to make it up, fearing that getting it wrong now could lead to losing contact forever.
Again, when Abbie is hustling her way out of her new boyfriend’s arms, desperate to go find out what’s happening to her kids, I am fumbling to turn the pages fast enough – ‘she knew that if she let him hug her, she would start to cry and that she couldn’t afford tears, not just now.’ No no, I thought, you mustn’t exclude him from your troubles – that’s how you kill an intimate relationship… And then I remembered this was only their second meeting – or did weeks of e-talking really count as intimacy?
As well as a page-turning way with ordinary lives, the tale plunges the unsuspecting reader into real thriller territory, demonstrating very neatly that the internet is not the only place where innocents can stray into the arms of perverts and potential killers. Have you ever wondered what would be on your mind if you were in an imminent death situation? Would you prove to be a fighter, despite just being ‘ordinary’? ‘Perhaps this film was better than she’d thought,’ is the first response of one of Warren’s characters, finding a knife held inches from her face.
And then there’s the cucumber – who would have thought that, after all that’s gone before, a woman would find something totally original and outrageous to do with a cucumber. ‘Low Tide, Lunan Bay’ is topical: terrifying and funny, but never escapist. It reads absolutely real, even when life is at its most absurd. I read it almost in one sitting, and when I was forced to break off for meals, spent the whole time debating the issues it addressed. I can’t wait to see what Rosalie Warren is going to do next.
‘Low Tide, Lunan Bay’ ISBN 978-0-70908753-3 Hardback £18.99 Published by Robert Hale, 30th April 2009
This review first appeared on www.booksy.co.uk - The Circaidy Gregory review of small press and indie books.