Review of Raw Blue, by Kirsty Eagar

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We learn as we grow that for many of us our real spirituality has nothing to do with what most people would identify as ‘religion’. That is certainly true of Carly, the narrator of Kirsty Eagar’s Raw Blue. I don’t know anything about surfing (& I knew even less before I read this story), but her type of ‘a nineteen-year-old-disappointment’ is one that I often encountered my younger days; they were yacht crew or skiers, backpackers, climbers—nomads who worked, when they absolutely had to, as bartenders, cooks, housekeepers, wait-staff—& with luck @ something related to their passion, like sailmaker‘s apprentice, rigger, ski patrolman, guide or ranger. Their avocation wasn’t just the most important thing in their lives; it was the only thing. They drifted in & out of relationships because there was always another boat, another mountain, another trail, another wilderness area, another beach calling. Lots were college dropouts but some had advanced degrees & there were times when I was sorely tempted to join them.

Carly lives in Manly, a suburb of Sydney with great beaches. She surfs every day & works from 4.30 to midnight as a chef @ a moderately upscale restaurant. She drives a clapped-out Laser (the Australian Ford version of a Focus), & lives with a Dutch housemate named Hannah. Conspicuously no boyfriends but some really bad dreams & we are aware but a few chapters in that Carly’s backstory includes a serious trauma. That is common with those who embark on this kind of spiritual pilgrimage. They are often suffering from the effects of grief, wars, abusive relationships, victims of rape, or betrayal. Cheryl Strayer’s Wild seems based on that premise. Their athletic/spiritual discipline assuages the pain, if it doesn’t cure it, something really understood in the Middle Ages: by the time you reached Walsingham, even better Compostella, you’d probably have your stuff pretty much sorted.

It took me about half way through Raw Blue to be sure it was going to work for me, but I was buoyed by reviewers comparing Kirsty Eagar favourably to Melina Marchetta (taking population into account, I think Australia has more superb authors than anywhere else in the English-speaking world), which is a very high standard indeed. I’d rank On the Jellicoe Road over Raw Blue, but mainly because Taylor Markham has more opportunities in a more complex setting & series of roles than Carly, but spiritually Raw Blue turned out excellently. I think this passage is one that brings out well what surfing means to Carly: ‘But when it comes down to it, getting up is easy. I’ve left it late but sometimes the more critical part of a wave is better; you use the wave’s own energy, a quick suck-push that picks you up & throws you on the board. There’s a frozen moment a snapshot in time, where I realise I’m standing, abut to take the drop, and the drop’s steep but that’s good because I can already feel the surge & swoop of it in my belly. I make my bottom turn and see the wall stretching away in front of me, the muscle of the wave, steepening up sharply with the promise of speed.’ What could come nearer the mysterium-tremendum than standing on a board playing on the face of a huge wall of water?

To find out what some of the surfing terms, such as ‘bottom turn’ mean, I did the same thing I did with the cheer stunts in Dare Me, went to YouTube & watched. If you feel put off by the technical surfing descriptions, that will let you see what Carly is describing, even if we can’t actually feel the sensations. For local Australian expressions, there’s Google. I already knew a ‘panel beaters’ was ‘body shop’ for us Yanks, but I loved the joke about the ‘Centre-Link surfing team’ when I discovered that Centre-Link was the welfare office.

This is a book about spirituality & athleticism @ a high level, about healing & recovery, growth & maturity, friendship, & a moving love story featuring one of the most patient & caring men I’ve seen in recent fiction who finds in Carly a young woman who’s worth the effort. As she is ours.

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