The Water Children
Anne Berry
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Buy *The Water Children* by Anne Berry online

The Water Children
Anne Berry
Simon and Schuster
336 pages
May 2012
rated 5 of 5 possible stars

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Berry constructs a powerful thriller that makes profound observations on humankind through four young people. In her tense and angst-riddled tale, Berry follows each character as they grow through the years, enduring an ever-present obsession that climaxes in 1976 London. Delving into the troubled family history of Owen, Catherine, Naomi, and Sean, the author exposes the tragedies that have shaped their lives.

Embellished with the high-voltage enthusiasm of John Osborne’s legendary play "Look Back in Anger," a beachside tragedy jump-starts a chilling, claustrophobic story in which the power of water symbolizes Catherine and Sean’s flailing marriage reveals some unsettling facts about Owen’s past. In 1961, a holiday outing goes awry as the sun beats down on a Devonshire beach and Owen fails to watch over his baby sister, Sarah. The tragic events of that afternoon will strike Owen with the full force of a sledgehammer.

When Sarah is rescued from the water, her body so white that it is almost silver, Owen's mother hisses to his father “bring her back.” Haunted by stink of the sea with its “washed-up dead things,“ Owen finds himself stifled by the “great collar of guilt,” a load that over the years only grows heavier. Even when he travels to London to begin a new life, Owen remains haunted by nightmares of legendary merlocks rising up from the water’s depth. Locked in the black sludge is a child’s big frozen body made out of water who pines to be free.

As we follow Owen’s chronic angst and guilt, Berry drops us into West London and the home of Catherine, who happily looks forward to Christmas with her American relatives, the Hoyles. Buoyed by the possibility of reconnecting with her friend Rosalyn in the stately house of Wood End, Sussex, Catherine’s youth is most characterized by the iced mirror of frozen pond water and the fact that both she and Rosalyn barely escape death.

In a landscape where swimming pools and picaresque lakes become lucid, blue ogres waiting to ensnare like icy, alabaster tombs, manic-depressive Naomi is sullied by her blood, trapped in her dueling world of Mara. An “all-seeing, unforgiving deity,” Naomi becomes the voice of Mara, her buried, temptress twin and her “black inner doll.” Embarking on a path of uncontrollable revenge, Naomi/Mara can’t quite cope with the fact that her current boyfriend, Walt, is “prepared to take his pleasure elsewhere.”

When Irish farm boy Sean Madigan (also determined to escape and remake himself) stumbles upon Catherine, he and Catherine and Owen and Naomi converge in a treasonous dance of jealousy and recrimination in Sean’s Covent Garden flat. While London in 1976 endures one of the hottest years on record, Sean ekes out a living managing his market stall, remembering with awe the river that held him in thrall: the hypnotic Shannon. Hardly the exemplary father, Sean proves to be just as overwhelmed by parenthood as Catherine, who wears the pants in their broken marriage.

London’s oppressive heat gradually beats Berry’s characters into submission so that they feel the weight of so many burdens. Under an unvarying blue sky, this tale unfolds in brilliant, profound prose, the author digging deep into the lives of her four deeply damaged young people as they attempt purge their sins, guilt, and shame in the cold heart of a ruthless sea.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Michael Leonard, 2012

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