It was its premise that attracted me to Sara Freeman’s Tides when it was pitched to me: a debut about a woman who flees after suffering a devastating bereavement drawn into a relationship with a man suffering his own loss, and there was mention of a spare writing style, always my favourite. I’d expected a more straightforward way of telling her story but Freeman’s chosen style of narrative suits its subject perfectly, opening with Mara on a bus knowing only that she’s heading to the coast.
This was exactly what she wanted, she must remind herself: to slip into a blind spot, to run out on her life
Mara has little idea of what she will do or where she will go, a few belongings stuffed into a backpack and not much in the way of money to survive on. She settles on a small town which attracts wealthy visitors and sufficient blow-ins to keep the local wine shop open. After several false starts, she spots a notice in its window advertising a vacancy and gets the job, setting herself up in the shop’s attic, uninvited, filching the odd leftover sandwich and bin end. The shop’s owner seems oblivious, too caught up in his own troubles, missing his wife and daughter. As summer comes to an end and winter sets in, he and Mara drift closer together until his wife returns.
He used to say there was nothing he could do to make him unlove her. We’ll see about that, she always thought
That synopsis may sound rather prosaic but it’s the telling of Mara’s story and the complexity of her character that makes this debut stand out, delivered in a series of short paragraphs, most of which barely fill half a page, details of her past emerging often obliquely with little spelled out. It’s almost a third of the way through before we learn Mara’s name, dropped quietly into a narrative written in the second person further distancing us from this woman who craves isolation but finds it almost impossible to achieve. Freeman’s writing is clean, precise and often vivid. I noted down far too many quotes to use here from a book which, if you took the white space out, might amount to little more than 100 pages. I found it extraordinary. It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s certainly mine.
Granta Books: London 9781783787586 256 pages Hardback