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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

'Raw Blue' by Kirsty Eagar

From the BLURB:

Carly has dropped out of uni to spend her days surfing and her nights working as a cook in a Manly café. Surfing is the one thing she loves doing ... and the only thing that helps her stop thinking about what happened two years ago. Then she meets Ryan and Carly has to decide. Will she let the past bury her? Or can she let go of her anger and shame, and find the courage to be happy?

Carly is hiding.

She has dropped out of uni and off her family’s radar. She is living with a salsa-dancing, man-mad Dutch woman and working as a short-order cook at the cafe in a surf town. At night Carly’s nightmares creep in, and sometimes while driving she’ll be tempted to run herself into the guardrail and end it all. . .

But during the day, and especially early in the morning, Carly is found.

She surfs and she remembers why she’s still here. The beautiful moments when she catches a wave and is in the tunnel of the surf . . . in those moments, Carly thinks that maybe she can go on.

But she is still hiding. She’s hiding from her fear, and her anger. Fear of men and their pack-like behaviour and intimidating masculinity. And her anger about what happened to her that night . . .

But Carly can’t hide forever. She can’t hide from her new surf buddy, the young boy Danny who has synesthesia and sees people’s true colours. And she can’t hide from Ryan, a local surfer with a shady past who makes Carly feel safe, for the first time in a long time.

Raw Blue’ was the 2009 debut novel from Kirsty Eagar, which also won the 2010 Victorian Premier's Literary Awards Young Adult Fiction prize.

I read this book last year, shortly after I interviewed Ms Eagar about her second novel, ‘Saltwater Vampires’. I never wrote a review of ‘Raw Blue’ though, mostly because I feared being unable to do the book justice. And also because after my first reading, I had to put the book down and walk away for a little while. Because that’s what sort of book ‘Raw Blue’ is. It stays with you, burrows deep and gnaws away months after reading so that you keep turning it over and admiring new angles and smoothing it out. But recently ‘Raw Blue’ warranted a re-reading, and I now feel able to get my thoughts down and communicate my praise.

‘Raw Blue’ is, first and foremost, a novel about anger. It’s about how anger and its triggering grief will never remain dormant for long, no matter how much we try bottling it. At the beginning of the novel, Carly is deep in repression. She has secrets and angry scars of hurt – but when we meet her she is trying to push forward and put a bandaid over her war wounds. She has dropped out of uni, gotten a low-paying but steady job and sequestered herself in a surf town where nothing much is expected of her except catching the next big wave.

But despite her best efforts at normalcy and getting lost in her love of surf . . . flashes of anger and grief shine through. When she’s driving, Carly imagines running her car off the road. And when a large group of men come into the cafe, she can’t stop thinking of them and being aware of their presence while she hides in the kitchen out back.

Carly is hiding a deep hurt, and a traumatic event. The details of this moment slowly leak into the story, but it’s with great reluctance on Carly’s part, and reads like pulling teeth as she pieces together the moments of a night she’d rather forget.

I loved that Eagar is dealing with a very big ‘issue’ in an utterly un-explosive way. There is no one moment that pushes Carly to a major reveal of her deep, dark secret. Rather, it’s a gradual picking apart bought on by a number of factors. Like Carly’s easy conversations with the beautiful and sweet Danny, who has synesthesia and attaches colour to people and objects. Or her reluctant attraction to Ryan, a fellow surfer whose shady past and questionable friends terrifies Carly, but whom she can’t help but be drawn to.

I bury my face in my hands. And then Ryan does such a nice thing. He wraps his arm around my shoulders and pulls me in against him. I can feel his body heat through his cotton T-shirt, and directly in front of me are the worn, faded knees of his jeans. But most of all, I can smell him. And he smells sandy-warm, like a beach. No one can see my face in there protected by his chest. Which is good because I can’t stop crying. I mean, I’m really going for the world record in terms of an inappropriate public breakdown. But it doesn’t matter, it just doesn’t matter. I’m sheltered.

The surf setting is wonderful, both because Eagar has a clear love and affinity for the sport, but also because it forces Carly to confront her demons. It’s definitely a blokey sport – not for the timid that aren’t willing to muscle in on a wave or call someone out when they steal yours. Carly loves surfing, but she can’t deny that it’s a male-dominated ocean out there, and while she may think of herself as damaged and frightened, readers see in the way she holds her own on a surfboard that she isn’t necessarily scared of men – not when she’s willing to surf with the big boys and take the waves that come her way.

Eagar beautifully harmonizes Carly’s inner explorations with the surf-setting and lifestyle. Grief and anger come in waves. Sometimes they’re lulling – like calm waters. But all it takes is an unexpected swell to send you down into the deep, drowning and struggling, unsure of which way is up and how to find air. That’s ‘Raw Blue’, it’s about the moments of calm that trick Carly into thinking a wave of emotion isn’t right around the corner, about to drag her out to sea.


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