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Steel yourself for sordidness on the shore


The Shore cover

The Shore cover

The Shore cover

"Oh what a lovely cover," said a friend on glancing at Sara Taylor's debut novel The Shore, and which has a cover with pretty seashells set against a pinky/purply background. The kind of cover in fact which does your heart good, and makes you want to curl up on a wet afternoon and be transported to a life where you can walk along a lovely beach on a balmy day, and collect such delightfully gorgeous shells.

John Williams won an Oscar for composing the movie score for Jaws, and which included the brilliantly chilling "shark" theme which consisted of an alternating pattern of two notes which warned people of impending danger.

I feel it would help if Sara Taylor's debut novel also came with some such suspense music. Maybe a three note 'thump thump thump' to let us know when we're about to enter some seriously creepy territory.

Because like the swimmers on the idyllic Amity island in Steven Spielberg's thriller, all begins pretty fine in this novel. There are alluring descriptions of a small collection of islands which stick out from the coast of Virginia into the Atlantic Ocean and which lend this book its title - a place made for holidays and consisting of oyster shell roads and picturesque creeks and trees which you want to climb up and build tree houses in.

Yet are you listening out for the 'thump thump thump' in the background... because horrible things are never far away.

Maybe it is Taylor's young age - being in her early twenties and with the resilience of youth - which allows her to sustain a relentless interest in the repugnant side of human nature, and especially regarding men using their physical strength to take sexual advantage of women and children.

Of the many miseries perpetrated against women, they include a father pulling his daughter by the hair through the house, a husband gambling away the savings of a hard-working wife, and a young man sneaking up on a young girl alone in the woods.

A reader mistakenly prepped for serene escapism, or indeed a beach read, will most likely find it hard not to shrink in on themselves when a druggie eyes up a teenage girl with a view to using her to get cheap gear, or when three male colleagues get drunk with a female colleague, pin her down and tell her it will be their word against hers if she complains.

Yes, some of the women do hit back, but it tends to involve knives and lots of blood and general gory grisliness. And two wrongs, as we know, doesn't a happy ending make.

So steel yourself for The Shore, a debut novel which follows two families over a century and a half, and which was written when Virginia-reared Taylor was doing an English degree at Randolph College. She has since completed an MA in prose fiction at the University of East Anglia, and is currently doing a double-focus PhD in censorship and fiction.

Taylor is a beautiful writer, exceptionally talented in fact, and brings us lyrically into the hearts of each of her many characters - there are family trees at the beginning of the book so a reader doesn't get lost as the tale moves from the year 1876 on to 2143.

Yet she is a writer who is transfixed by the unbeautiful and unpleasant, and for this reader it all became a bit unpalatable after a while. But I do look forward to reading more Taylor, and when she has discovered the power of redemption in her next book, so all our spirits will at least stand a chance of being redeemed.

You know what they say about never judging a book by its cover, well in this instance they weren't lying.

Sunday Independent