Often I find my everyday life affected by the books I am reading – caught up in other emotions, imagining what the characters are doing between the pages. This time, it was the other way around. My current life seemed to make the book more poignant, more intense, and nearly had me crying on the train. In a much happier way to Lucy Clarke’s The Sea Sisters, my own big sister leaves on Monday for 18 months of round the world travelling with her husband. As the weeks have led up to their departure, I’ve been torn between excitement for them, and sadness that we’ll miss such a huge chunk of each other’s lives. Having gained a full time job so quickly after graduation, I didn’t get the sister-filled summer I’d been hoping for. But I know that when they get back we’ll be closer than ever, with so much more big life to plan together…
The Sea Sisters is really two stories intertwined – 24year old Mia sets off on her own spontaneous, self-finding travels, and her big sister Katie follows her path with the aid of a journal 18 months later. The way the narratives mirror each other isn’t repetitive, but lets us into the intimate details of sisterhood, the darkness of grief, and the wild anticipation of searching the world for a place to belong. The kind of books that tackle difficult subjects and complicated relationships always have the potential to be overly sweet, a bit too fluffy, or in your face. Clarke manages to capture the essence of sibling rivalry and love, the never-ending frustration with one another, and the devastation of tragedy without belittling or over-dramatising the events. Instead, we get a human story of two people who barely know each other, yet have spent their lives together, and over the course of months, tears, and diary pages Katie learns so much more than she ever thought she could. I found myself flitting between the words on the page and my own fears, laughs, and quirks I share with my own sister – the power to make readers relate is something every author longs to achieve, and Clarke has done so with delicacy and art.
But this book isn’t just about sisterly conflict. It depicts a round the world trip that’s kicked my wanderlust into full gear and made me even more jealous of the upcoming adventures. The descriptions of countries, people, food, and of course numerous beaches made my cold train journeys disappear into sandy coves, bright sunshine seeping through my raincoat. It is with its simplicity that Clarke manages to capture the girls’ expeditions – it’s not a travel guide, but it is able to summon up sights and smells of places I’ve never been near, with the honesty of someone who understands what it’s like to be in an unknown yet beautiful country.
Perhaps I’m feeling more sentimental and nostalgic at the moment, but The Sea Sisters was an unexpected gem. It’s the kind of book I’ll now insist on buying in paperback so it can adorn my bursting shelves, and one day I’ll inevitably take it on holiday just so I can enjoy and sun-bleach its pages. But despite my over-emotional response, this is at its core solid storytelling, drawing you in and urging you to turn the page, read Mia’s journal with Katie, and discover a little more of yourself in the process.