Thursday, August 18, 2016

Review: Underwater by Marisa Reichardt

Title: Underwater
Author: Marisa Reichardt
Publisher: Macmillan Australia
Publication Date: 2 February 2016
Buy: Amazon | The Book Depository | Dymocks Australia

In order to move on after a traumatic experience, Morgan must learn to forgive - first someone who did something that might be unforgivable, and then herself.

But Morgan can't move on. She can't even move beyond the front door of the apartment she shares with her mother and little brother. Morgan feels like she's underwater, unable to surface. Unable to see her friends. Unable to go to school.

When it seems Morgan can't hold her breath any longer, a new boy moves in next door. Evan reminds her of the salty ocean air and the rush she used to get from swimming. He might be just what she needs to help her reconnect with the world outside.

Underwater is a powerful, hopeful debut novel about redemption, recovery and finding the strength it takes to face your past and move on.
(summary from Goodreads)


Underwater is a painful, aching portrayal of the aftermath of trauma.

Reichardt has created an interesting debut. It's emotional to read a story about suffering, and Morgan's suffering, her agoraphobia, is heartrending. The thing about Underwater is that Reichardt adds layers to the story. Details about what trauma Morgan has suffered are revealed only a little at a time. As Morgan faces her fears and works through her trauma, so we work our way through figuring out the full story. What stands out is Morgan's also feeling guilt, claiming responsibility for the events. It isn't simply that she lived through a terrible ordeal and this twist, coming as it does, slowly and after experiencing some of Morgan's struggles, is all the more impacting. Another layer to the narrative is Morgan's family issues. It adds something even more personal to Morgan's story, that there's more to her pain, to her reaction, than just the traumatic experience. Reading Underwater without being moved is practically impossible.

Morgan's voice is true and heartfelt, it's what makes Underwater the emotional, thought-provoking novel it is. Reichardt makes it easy to relate to Morgan's pain, she really puts us into the story. And the twist offers a different kind of perspective to this type of narrative, something a little more horrific and shocking, something jarring, that pushes for empathy and anger all at once. Refusing to leave her home, Morgan's world is very small. It's just her mother and little brother, Ben, who are wonderfully understanding and supportive, as well as Morgan's therapist, Brenda. I really liked Brenda. She's sympathetic but also no nonsense. It's Evan moving in next door that really pushes Morgan though, and fuels the mystery of the traumatic event. We know from early on that Evan is connected, but the how of it is something to figure out. Evan is a tough one for me. I liked him as a character, he's a nice guy and it was interesting the way Reichardt had him not understanding exactly Morgan's situation. It helped him act as a catalyst for Morgan but also meant sometimes the push was too much. What didn't feel entirely genuine to me was the romance between Evan and Morgan. At times it felt too convenient. Too quick and too much of a tool to work on 'fixing' Morgan. What did resonate with me was Taylor, another survivor, who was a striking contrast to Morgan. Taylor's way of getting through the trauma was to live life to the fullest, to work out and become stronger physically, to push herself. It's another way Reichardt portrays the varied expression of grief and fear, and again helps Underwater to feel that bit more sincere. 

Underwater stands out as a deep, emotional and honest debut. 

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