Review of The Blue: A Novel, by Lucy Clarke

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When I hear CSN’s Southern Cross I always tear up. The Blue of the title of this book is a 50 ft. offshore sailing yacht. Had I the chance to join her crew when I was young, I’d have been off like a shot. Hell, I’d be already aboard even now if they’d have me. Even knowing how the voyage will end.

I’d rank this book with The Secret History & The LIkeness as a griping story of friendship, belonging, commitment – as well as deceit, deception & death. There is little you can experience to match crewing a sailing yacht offshore for sheer intensity & a sense of belonging. Aboard The Blue we have the skipper, Aaron, a thirty-some New Zealander & a pick-up crew of early twenty-somethings: Denny, another Kiwi, Heinrich a German ex-tennis pro, Joseph a French former diving champion, Shell a Canadian jewellery maker, & two English girls who are BFs, Kitty, an aspiring actress, & Lana, an artist. From Lana’s POV we get the story in two time frames, what happened aboard the yacht during a passage from the Philippines to Palau & Lana’s thoughts eight months later when she’s living in New Zealand & The Blue is posted missing.

Aaron has a ‘no-relationships’ rule aboard the board. That makes sense because everyone aboard already has a very high maintenance relationship with the yacht herself & in such a confined space there’s no room for hanky-panky & the rivalries & hurt feelings that would ensue. Not, as we might expect, that the rule won’t be flouted & with the girls being two BFs & a Lesbian, the mixture is pretty volatile. Then Joseph, who was supposed to have left the crew in the Philippines, is discovered as a stowaway when they two days @ sea. During a night watch Joseph mysteriously disappears. As Lana was passed out from too much partying at the time, she doesn’t know what happened to him. Did he go over the side by accident, or was it suicide, or foul play? And what should Lana, & the rest of the crew, do?

Lana’s initial response is that they should ‘inform “the Authorities”’ about Joseph when they reach Palau, & I am sure that many readers will think the same. But that is not what the skipper & the majority of the crew, including Kitty, decide. I put the expression ‘the Authorities’ in scare commas because it is so ambiguous – I wondered that none of characters, especially Aaron who is supposed to have been a barrister, ask Lana the question, ‘What ‘Authorities”?” There is no official record that Joseph was aboard The Blue. He vanished on the high seas whilst on passage to the tiny Republic of Palau. (I’d barely heard of it before.) Joseph was a citizen of France. The Blue was registered in New Zealand & her skipper a Kiwi. So presumably the ultimate ‘Authority’ determining the disposal of Joseph’s case would be a coroner’s court in Auckland whose only evidence would have been whatever the crew of the The Blue told them. The Blue would have impounded & probably lost to pay legal fees however the case turned out.

This is the kind of moral dilemma that fascinates me. I think if I’d been in Lana’s situation when I was young I would have gone along with the skipper & crew, & I am absolutely certain I would now. It’s a question of loyalty & belonging, to the yacht & to the rest of the crew. But then had I been one of the Whitethorn House residents in Tana French’s The Likeness I’d have kept quiet about what happened to Lexie, who unlike Joseph I actually loved. And Whitethorn was just an old house. The Blue is a boat! Thank Heavens I’ve never had to decide something like that in real life. (Of course in The Secret History I would’ve helped dispose of Bunny too.)

I’d rank The Blue almost with The Likeness & The Secret History as contemporary tragedies. The setting, aboard a yacht on the high seas, is worthy of Conrad. But tho’ The Blue is clearly a five star (it disturbed my dreams last night – really) the characters, especially Lana, don’t quite achieve the level high tragedy requires. Given what we learn of his backstory, Aaron has the ingredients for truly tragic status, but we learn too little too late. (No, he does not resemble another classic sea-captain whose name begins with the same letter. But I would have had him as like Captain Lingard in Conrad’s The Rescue.) Lana seems to be another of those characters we keep encountering who are faced with a moral dilemma she hasn’t the education & ethos to know how to handle, who cannot distinguish between what’s legal & what’s right. Now that you’ve seen what a reviewer who thinks he does have those qualities would do, you might prefer to sail with a legalist like Lana. But for me in this particular case, what happens on the high seas should stay on the boat.

But fortunately for the reader & for Lana, the mystery doesn’t go down with the boat. The ending perfectly satisfied me, and as a tragic romance this is a wonderful story, & one I expect I shall continue to reflect on & to relate to the person I want to be. Every reader who enjoys sea-stories & stories about relationships & moral & spiritual issues should love it. It was also a wonderful audio travelling companion. Scarlett Mack was a superb narrator. She do the characters in different voices, Kiwi, English, North American perfectly to my ear. Her narrative voice I couldn’t quite place but I loved it. She pronounced ‘lower’ to sound almost like ‘lure’ to an American & her pronunciation of ‘palm’ like ‘Pam’ is the old nautical way – that’s how you say the name of the sailmakers tool.

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