Atlantic Black by A.S. Patrić
When I finished reading Alec Patrić’s latest book, I was surprised to find myself in the same room as I was when I started reading. Surely something must have changed. I had been swept away on a journey and yet had nothing to show for it except my heart beating faster. This is the effect of Patrić’s writing. He will toss and turn you, and never let you go. It makes reading his work an almost physical act.
Over a mere 24 hours, the action takes place on a cruise ship heading away from Europe, crossing the Atlantic Ocean – on the brink of 1939. It’s a huge boat, with multiple decks, rooms and corridors. We are privy to the meandering nature of the boat, the guests on it passing through common spaces and their own private cabins as if searching for a new distraction. But 17-year-old Katrina Klova and her mother are instead swept up in the trauma of their past. Klova’s mother suffers an immense breakdown and withdraws. Her daughter is left to navigate the ship on her own, with only letters from her older brother to keep her anchored. It’s not nearly enough. Katrina is offered a variety of diversions, but this only increases her alarm, and therefore the reader’s. Patrić writes in intricate detail: reading this novel, you can feel the cold, smell the damp and the cigarette smoke, and understand that there really is no escape.
Patrić, whose work nods to writers like Patrick White, is already regarded as one of Australia’s great writers. Atlantic Black will take you, as the reader, to another claustrophobic place – right in your very own room. Certainly, this compelling novel is not for the faint-hearted.