Deeper Than the Sea by Nelika McDonald
Theo and her teenage daughter Beth live a quiet life in a small and isolated coastal Victorian town. Theo works in the local library, Beth at a bistro while she completes her studies. Theo enjoys pottery, Beth dreams of going to university to become a scientist. They worry about each other: Theo about Beth attracting the attention of young men who just aren’t good enough for her, and Beth about how Theo will whittle the days away when she becomes an empty-nester. Beth has always known that she was adopted, but doesn’t feel out of place with Theo. As a family, they have their quirks, but they are just that – a family. When Theo is arrested, accused of kidnapping by Beth’s biological mother, their lives start to fall apart, and all previous notions of family are cast into doubt.
When it first became clear what Theo had done, I felt like I’d made my mind up about her already. But as the story unfolded, my opinion slowly altered. Theo’s is a heartbreaking and often maddening tale. McDonald traces Theo’s life in such a way that readers are given a 360-degree insight into her situation, and why she has made the choices she has.
McDonald chooses to open with a traumatic event: Theo witnessing a stranger’s suicide. This sense of bruising then permeates the book. This, combined with McDonald’s gorgeous prose, makes for a compelling and quietly beautiful novel. This book is a fascinating study in nature versus nurture. McDonald maps out the grey area around what it means to be a parent – adoptive or otherwise – with true grace and empathy.
Ellen Cregen works as a bookseller at Readings Doncaster.