All The Books I Can Read

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Review: Riptides by Kirsten Alexander

on February 12, 2020

Kirsten Alexander
Penguin Random House AUS
2020, 352p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

In 1974, in country Queensland, Charlie Campbell forces a car off an unlit and rarely travelled dirt road into a tree, killing the pregnant driver. The crash wakes Charlie’s sister, Abby, who’d been sleeping in the passenger seat next to him. They were heading to their father’s farm.

A dead woman has no place in either of their plans. They drive away, leaving her on the ground as heavy rain falls. They cannot help her, there are no witnesses, and there is too much at stake.

When they arrive at the farm, the siblings learn that the dead woman, Skye, was their father’s fiance.

They resolve to tell no one what they’ve done — to admit to this crime will cost them their father and their future. Charlie leans on his older sister to lead them out of trouble, to act as the protector she’s had to be since their mother died. But their secret grows more complicated by the day.

Abby, however, is not one to give up. She keeps the single piece of evidence hidden, and decides to redeem herself. She determines to raise Skye’s son as her own, study, and make a difference. She is convinced that she and Charlie can get back on track. But along the way, they need to reconsider exactly what it is they want.

Sometimes when you read a book that isn’t set “currently”, it can be quite difficult to remember that. Because in terms of history, Riptides doesn’t take place that long ago, in the 1970s. So a lot of things are familiar, but things have also changed in a lot of ways as well.

This book has a crime……. It’s not a deliberate crime in some ways but in others it is a clear case of negligence that results in a crime. I wasn’t born in the 1970s, so I honestly can’t say just how much this action was reviled or not at that time. I know that it would definitely be these days, and in fact there was an horrific incident involving someone who made the decision to drive recently, when they should definitely not have. For me, that sort of thing these days, is inexcusable. I don’t know how prevalent it was in the 70s I suspect it was probably quite common.

Abby and Charlie are siblings, who through their combination of fatigue, sibling dynamic and too much Bingtang and “road drinks” cause another car to spin off the road, killing the driver. The siblings decide to keep their presence at the scene a secret, fleeing and rewriting their story, only to discover that the woman they caused to die was engaged to their father. His obvious grief and shock adds a new element of danger to their secret, to confess now would be to destroy their relationship with him probably irreparably. The local cops are suspicious, their father is a mess and Abby and Charlie are starting to crack under the pressure.

Recently this country had absolutely horrific fires – and now in the north, it’s having flooding rains. There’s a flood in this book as well and it feels so authentic an experience, so very Australian. It’s set in Queensland during a turbulent time, both politically and also with a humid, wet summer. The descriptions of the creeping mould, the dash to help neighbours escape their house (Abby and her husband have a 2 story house, considerably safer in rising floodwaters). I really enjoyed the descriptions of the flood waters. I think a lot of Australians will relate to such a scenario (especially people who are reading this now, in QLD or NSW).

I found Abby as a character to be quite interesting. She and her husband have three children, two of whom are twins. Her husband is a journalist who seems to spend long hours away from home, off chasing the next story. Abby seems the primary caregiver and this is a time of change, so she’s doing something herself, enrolling in a law degree. She faces criticism for this from people like her father (of an older time) where women don’t “abandon their families” and how unfair it is on her husband that she’s doing this and he’ll have to pitch in and help a bit more when he’s a very busy man with a very busy job and should be able to do very busy man things whilst Abby provides all the childrearing. The men in this seem to fulfil “older, traditional farmer”, “lazy entitled wastrel son” and “busy career man” roles. I found myself really set against Charlie from almost the beginning because of his actions and even though Abby and Charlie seem concerned for their father, I never really got the feeling that they were sorry about what happened, or that they felt bad about it. Their feelings seemed to be much more about self-preservation and how the truth coming out would affect them, rather than any sort of sense of responsibility. I found that quite off-putting. It makes me wonder how many people would do that – flee the scene, pretend they were never there, try to absolve themselves of all responsibility.

I don’t think I’m as familiar with 1970s QLD politics as I need to be to pick up on all the nuances in this, particularly around police corruption etc, but I found the family relationships and dynamics quite intriguing. I’m not really sure about the ending – it felt a bit random, like the book took a left turn somewhere and it also seemed quite rapid. Abrupt 180 degree swivels on thoughts and feelings and a sense that everyone knew everyone else in a bizarre way, which isn’t unlikely as such, in Australia, even in a place like Brisbane. But it felt a bit overly convenient. I think the more it drifted away from the family relationships into a deeper mystery and a strange place with sinister people the more I felt my interest waning a bit.

I enjoyed parts of this but other parts were not for me and I think the way in which I viewed the incident definitely coloured how I felt about certain people after that. It’s not always easy to disconnect yourself from modern opinions and who we are shapes how we feel about things.


Book #19 of 2020

Riptides is book #7 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2020


2 responses to “Review: Riptides by Kirsten Alexander

  1. […] Bree @ 1girl2manybooks and Amanda @ Mrs B’s Book Reviews also reviewed Riptides and enjoyed the read. […]

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