Sheerwater by Leah Swann
Leah Swann’s debut novel is literary fiction with the tempo of a crime novel. Told over three dramatic days, even astute readers will be stunned by the conclusion.
Ava, the mother of two young boys, is driving towards Sheerwater, an idyllic town on the Great Ocean Road. Within pages, Ava’s hypervigilance and mental checklists alert the reader that this is not a casual trip or holiday. She has resigned from her job, and will begin a new job over one hundred kilometres away. She has forwarded her mail, but not her husband’s. When nine-year-old Max asks ‘When’s Daddy going to come?’, she gives a vague answer.
For all her planning, the last thing Ava expects is for a light plane to crash in a field next to the highway. She can tell the occupants need rescuing, and her instincts kick in. However, when she returns to her car, her boys are missing. The police are called and the investigation begins.
After this, the narrative splits into the voices of several characters. While Ava’s voice provides the primary perspective, we hear from her husband, Laurence, as the police interview him. Laurence then comes to the Geelong area to begin his own search. The author also captures the voice of young Max as he navigates changing circumstances and tries to reassure and care for his four-year-old brother. This rendition of Max is sensitive and believable and reminded me of the child’s voice in Room by Emma Donaghue.
To say more about the plot would involve spoilers, but this is a well-paced read. Sheerwater focuses on a crucial social issue, and readers would do well to pair it with the Stella Prize-shortlisted See What You Made Me Do by Jess Hill.