Deeper than the Sea features sixteen-year-old Beth and her mother Theo. ‘They got along fine, the two of them. Two halves make a whole. They were a family’. Beth knew she was adopted, but not much of the details. The story is told alternately from both Beth and Theo’s perspectives.
Beth was ‘trying to impose order on her life. Trying to do the right thing, be the right thing, get good marks, work long hours; think of her future. Be responsible’.
Then her birth mother, Alice, turns up and hers and Theo’s worlds are turned upside down. Beth questions who she is, where she belongs and who she can trust.
She is being cared for by Theo’s friend Mary and her home is everything Beth thought ‘a home should be: noisy, full, with Mary and Tom’s babbling, the chubby baby and the other kids, squirmy toddlers and pre-schoolers, all slobbery kisses and artless, silly funniness. There were always pots of sauce bubbling on the stove and couches heaped with cushions, unopened stacks of letters and toys and umbrellas and batteries all piled together on the hallstand, everyone’s shoes in a jumble by the door. Old, soft, faded sheets, the smell of the jasmine on the back fence and the radio or television always on’. This is starkly contrasted to her home with Theo, a single working mother.
She starts to push the boundaries and find her own identity as a young woman, turning to a group of young people who she had previously not associated with – those who had dropped out of school, were living in the local caravan park, who drank and used drugs. She wants to escape from all that is happening to her so she joins in. She finds it a relief not to be the good girl anymore. ‘Maybe it was just the arrival of something she had wanted for a very long time’.
Beth wants to punish Theo because she had ‘rarely talked about her life before Beth. It was like she had put it in a box, closed the lid and pushed it into a corner. Well, Beth was going to do the same. She was going to lock Theo up tight, in the smallest, most airless box she could conjure up. Theo would hate it in there. All the better. Beth was going to let her suffocate. She wouldn’t see her, and she wouldn’t think of her either’.
Theo is struggling with the situation and reflecting back on how it all came about and the sacrifices she had made to keep Beth. She hadn’t been honest with Beth because she didn’t know ‘how she would feel when she told her beautiful child the unbeautiful truth’.
The effects of the justice and child protection systems are seen from the personal level, through both Theo and Beth’s eyes.
With evocative writing the novel is filled with oceanic metaphors –
‘one of those really big waves came, it was anything but clear down there in the midst of it. It was a swirling cyclone of sand and water and the whip of seaweed as you collided with the ocean floor. It was an assault on every sense you had, the rush in your ears and the salt in your eyes, water up your nose and filling your mouth and the bruise and bump and graze of your body, swung back and forth in the arms of the ocean. If you managed to get up in time, you might just catch your breath before the next big wave came and knocked you right over again. Or you might not’.
‘The strangest sensation of moving in and out of her own mind, like waves lapping at the shore and then falling back’.
All of the characters have depth and ring true, down to the minor characters, who also help to tell us more about Beth and Theo.
The book explores what makes a mother and a family. It addresses the injustice when those who really want children cannot, and those who can do not always want to be responsible for them. The roles and responsibilities of both mothers and fathers when it comes to children and careers are explored and it questions why some people got blessed lives, and other people got the rug pulled out from under them?’ The multiple layers are woven intricately into a moving and thought provoking story that stayed with me long after I finished it.