Sunday 18 March 2018

Books: Touching story of the sea

Killer whale
Killer whale

Margaret Carragher

Look into the Eye by Jennifer Barrett (Poolbeg, €9.99)

The author's adage to write about what you know serves Jennifer Barrett well. Like Melanie McQuaid, the protagonist of her debut novel, Barrett is one of a large, close-knit Dublin family and has been involved in the marketing and development of arts companies, youth charities and other non-profit organisations.

She also shares her fictional heroine's passion for travel and marine conservation and deplores the ongoing mass slaughter of whales, purportedly for scientific research, by Japanese whalers in the Southern Ocean.

The book opens in the dying days of the Celtic Tiger. A thirty-something Melanie is frazzled by the demands of her bullying boss at The Mill, Dublin's coolest arts venue where she has been charged with the unenviable task of spearheading a major fundraising campaign for a new auditorium. Matters aren't helped by the publication of a newspaper article dissing the proposed "run-of-the-mill" development by journalist Richie Blake.

With his reputation for hard drinking and womanising, Blake is the type of fellow Melanie would usually go out of her way to avoid. But when they meet at a charity fundraiser she finds herself inexplicably drawn to this rakishly handsome and charming rugger bugger.

Shortly afterwards, exhausted by the increasing demands of work, Melanie escapes on a whale-watching holiday to Norway. Diving off her cruise ship she comes face-to-face with an orca and they look deep into each other's eyes -- a profoundly moving experience that changes Melanie's perspective on life forever. Meanwhile, having pushed his luck and missed one too many deadlines, Richie is dispatched to report from a Greenpeace expedition vessel investigating the doings of a Japanese whaling fleet bound for the Antarctic.

In the time and space afforded by this initially unwelcome task, Richie finds himself ruminating on family tragedy, events from his long-buried past and the possible reasons behind his rackety lifestyle and myriad failed relationships.

Inspired by the passion and commitment of Greenpeace activists on board, Richie agrees to take part in a promotional video for the cause and is filmed diving with a pod of humpback whales in the Southern Ocean. On the other side of the world an astounded Melanie watches the resulting footage.

What began as a soul-searching travel article following a visit by Barrett to the Norwegian fjords has resulted in this charming and heartfelt tale about the impact of an encounter with the ocean's mightiest creatures on two troubled lives.


Irish Independent

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