Books: Seaside rites of passage

By the Shore by Galaxy Craze Cape pounds 10
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The Independent Culture
This is a book where emotions rage under a veneer of domestic calm. The hype surrounding its publication has largely focused on the writer's Hollywood credentials (roles in David Lynch's Nadja and Woody Allen's Husbands And Wives) and striking looks. So the simplicity of the style comes as a surprise at first. Far from writing a bonkbuster-style Hollywood expose, Craze paints a gentle picture of the vulnerability and venom of childhood. Through the voice of 12-year-old May, she dissects the dramas of the adult world around her with a quick tongue and a sharp eye.

Craze's skill lies in the power to touch the reader deeply, yet so softly that you barely notice her presence. The pivot of the novel is the fraught relationship between May and her young mother Lucy, a former Sixties child, who was initially unwilling to embrace the restraints of parenthood. She neglected her young daughter to go out partying in London, and exposed her to sex, drugs and drink. May finds herself thrust into an adult role, talking down to her mother, and securing their flat against her errant boyfriends.

Fleeing from the wreckage of a failed marriage, Lucy opens a guest house in a quiet seaside town, and strives to make her peace with herself and her children. Then a mysterious writer and his fashionable girlfriend come to stay, seeking solitude for him to finish his book. His arrival transforms a novel of quiet observation and reminiscence into a flowering love story. Mother and daughter seem to mature together, and the reader's respect for Lucy grows with May's realisation that the absent father she idealises leads a life of selfish indulgence, deliberately distancing himself from her.

The gentle rhythm of the novel echoes the sound of the sea, and is fragmented with memories from May and her mother's childhood, such as the time Lucy subjected her to a supposedly fashionable haircut: "It was short, messy, like a boy's. I was so angry. I had lost something. I started crying right there on the floor, with the hairdresser in her bed." The force and clarity of such recollections take the reader back to their own childhood.

For her debut, Craze has essentially written a successful and enjoyable rites-of-passage novel. Yet her conclusion is less potent. She loses her grip over her plot and characters, events verge on the predictable, and the last chapter feels tacked on to give the required happy ending. Her female characters have strong individual voices, a prime example being Lucy's friend Annabel who continually tries to drag her back to the metropolis. Her presence injects humour and emotion. Yet Craze's male characters struggle to become more than two-dimensional sketches. The ending fails to do justice to the rest of the novel, as the reader never cares enough about the relationship between Lucy and the writer. He remains a shadowy figure who likes Scrabble and reveals his feelings through French proverbs. We garner nothing of his thoughts or beliefs, and the intricacies of their relationship remain hidden in a book which hinges on a child's perspective. Despite this flaw, By The Shore remains an amusing, gritty debut which has rightly been making waves in the literary world.