Click here to read reviewer Michael Leonard's take on The Blue.
The possibility of adventure exerts a seductive pull on the imagination, especially for two young women impulsively fleeing home in England as Lana Lowe and Kitty Berry randomly select the Philippines as their destination. The girls have no plans when they encounter a group of wanderers sailing from the Philippines to New Zealand on a fifty-foot yacht called The Blue. But after a night of revelry at a local bar, the English girls accompany their new friends back to the yacht. A day later, following a democratic vote by the crew, Lana and Kitty are invited to sail on The Blue. The newcomers are enthralled with this unexpected opportunity to join an eclectic and congenial crew: Aaron, the apparent leader (from New Zealand); Heinrich (Germany); the artistic Shell (Canada); Denny (New Zealand); and Joseph (France).
Choices are made by group consensus, although Aaron, the most skilled at sailing, dominates most nautical decisions
and is their putative “captain.” Lana is attracted to Denny, the man who introduced his friends at the bar, but forewarned that Aaron has forbidden romances between crew members (for obvious reasons in such a confined space). Sharing chores and night watches, each member contributes to the whole, only Joseph drawing away from the others to spend time alone writing in his notebooks. As the gregarious, dark-haired Kitty falls in love with life on The Blue, the glorious sense of freedom and the beauty of their surroundings, Lana slowly grows more comfortable, sketching scenes in her notepad and quietly testing the growing
but forbidden bond with Denny.
The reader is seduced as well by the open sea and the implied freedom of this voyage when the English friends are invited to sail on The Blue, a tale narrated from Lana’s perspective after she has left the yacht, alone, betrayed and confused by events, but before the final destination is reached. Still in New Zealand, she learns of the sinking of The Blue after a collision with a ship container (a common hazard on the open sea), the past coming suddenly, vividly alive. Waiting for news of survivors at the emergency rescue center, Lana begins an agonizing vigil as relatives gather, waiting to learn who has survived while reliving her days on The Blue and the mystery of Joseph’s fate.
A captive audience, near-strangers sailing joyfully through a paradise poisoned by conflict and loss, is fertile territory for Clarke, who mines the personalities and histories of her characters, slowly exposing the small fissures between them, inconsistencies and secrets that grow more serious after Joseph disappears. Suddenly paradise is marred, crew members whispering together, taking sides, a growing unease Lana cannot understand: “It was only later that death had crept onto their deck with silent stealth.” Individuals gathered in common purpose grow fractious as the journey continues, the easy camaraderie of early days lost along with Joseph, leaving too many questions with no answers. The mutual affection Lana shares with Denny changes, cools; even more distressing, Lana suspects that Kitty has shifted allegiance to the others: “Even the sea had a different quality away from the land--it seemed thicker, darker, more alive.”
Clarke balances the differences of intention and reality in chapters alternating between then and now, revealing intimate relationships, histories and small dramas among the crew, the adventures that unite them and the event that drives them apart. Reality fades in the heady freedom of life on the sea without the usual boundaries, an opportunity to break from the past, but tragedy strikes, rendering this story more poignant, love and friendship more precious when it might be lost forever.