The monk wondered if, in the semi-darkness of the room, he had dreamed her pale presence, a ghost swimming by like the ephemeral thoughts that arose from his own watery places.
He sat on a bench, a multitude of feelings thronging inside him like the fish at her feed basket. He couldn’t tell if he wanted to be her, be the fish fed by her, or the water in which she swam. What he did know was that he wanted to be on the wet side of the glass. What did it feel like to be in that liquidity, to be brushed by fish, have them clamouring?
When the monk leaves his mountain monastery and ventures into the outside world, he is intent only on carrying out his assigned task – to scatter the remains of a fellow monk in the ocean. But when he encounters abalone diving women first in an aquarium and then in a fishing village he is distracted from his task.
One of the sea women, Chicken, is also distracted. She is worrying about the way her family and her community is changing, fading as it is battered by the modern world. Her sister Lilli has moved to the city and Chicken is sure that if Lilli returns things will improve.
The two stories in The Sea Bed overlap but are, for much of the book, quite separate, with the reader being given glimpses of the non viewpoint character in the instances where their paths cross, and being tantalised by the parallels and connections between the stories. As the two become increasingly one, there is a satisfying feeling of rightness.
This is a powerful novel, an observation of place, circumstance, and change which takes the reader on a journey.
The Sea Bed, by Marele Day
Allen & Unwin, 2009
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