Archipelago is a novel about grief and loss and the effect it can have not only on a person’s mind but on the constructs of family. The story revolves around Gavin who lives in Trinidad with his daughter Ocean as they deal with the aftermath of a flood that decimated their house and took away a life from their family. Ocean spends her time terrified of the rain and Gavin lives his life under a cloud of angst as he trudges through his daily routines. He longs to get away and put his life behind him.
When he feels he can cope no more, Gavin decides to turn to the life he knew before his family grew and takes Ocean to his old boat in the marina. His decision is to sail westwards to the Galapagos Islands, where he has always dreamed of visiting. With their dog, Suzy, in tow they set out to put the flood and their misery behind them.
Monique Roffey does a brilliant job of depicting the grief that grips a family upon a member of that family dying. Gavin is a man with a broken mind, he doesn’t know who he is any more and can’t trust his emotions from one day to the next. As someone who can relate very closely to what Gavin feels, I can only applaud Roffey for capturing the state of mind caused by bereavement so well. Gavin believes that this trip will fix it all, his daughter will thrive once again and he will wake as the man he once was.
The novel oozes with the heartbreak that the characters feel and Roffey hints at several different outcomes for the reader to dwell on. It isn’t until halfway through the book that Gavin reveals his memories and the reader finally sees just how much hurt lingers within these fragile people. Roffey has a wonderful way with words and her dialogue is often clipped and brusque to show the introversion of the personalities on display.
Her writing also flows beautifully as she describes the Caribbean and the islands that inhabit the area. Her descriptions are transporting for the reader and the scenes play out almost cinematically as the seas swell and the little boat is tossed around with wild abandon. The novel is as much of a journey for us as it is for the ensemble. The reader ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ along with Ocean as she sees giant tortoises, whales breaching the sea and dolphins dancing along the bow of their boat. We worry as Gavin sees his daughter injured and as his emotions rise and fall.
The relationship between father and daughter is the centrepiece of the book and we watch with a little awkwardness as Gavin and Ocean grow closer through the adversity of what came before the boat trip. Their existence is endearing and a thing of beauty. Ocean is utterly charming as she questions her father’s actions and the goings on of the world, she displays a wonderful innocence that only magnifies the pain she feels.
The book, most importantly, explores how people react to loss, when their world is filled with sadness. Thankfully, the book isn’t overly bleak – though many heartbreaking and tear jerking moments lie within its pages – and there are plenty of heart-warming slices of happiness. Don’t expect a plot with twists and turns, this is writing at its simplest – a story about a journey that changes people’s hearts and minds.
Monique Roffey has penned a wonderful book that deals with the saddest moments of a person’s life with both a raw and delicate touch.
Published by Simon and Schuster. This book was kindly sent from the publisher.