Silver Bay by Jojo Moyes

Jojo Moyes, there is no denying it, writes very good books. After having read Me Before You, After You and more recently, Still Me, dealing with Louisa Clark and her adventures, I decided to give some other books of hers a go and see if they are as entertaining.

And so, I read Silver Bay which is set in Australia in a place called, no surprises here, Silver Bay. It is told from the viewpoint of different characters in the book and the narrative moves between these different voices as the book progresses. The book begins with Kathleen, the oldest narrator with more ties to Silver Bay than many and she is also known as the famous 17 year old who caught the biggest shark that New South Wales had ever seen.

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Kathleen is Liza’s aunt, Hannah’s great aunt and is the proprietor of the Silver Bay Hotel which, whilst being the only place to stay when in Silver Bay, is also the meeting hub for a lot of its residents, especially the people who provide whale watching services to the tourists, among their number being Liza and Greg. Kathleen cares greatly for her charges who arrived in Silver Bay from Britain some years previously, their arrival to the bay being shrouded in mystery and talked about throughout the book in vague terms. She also cares for Nino Gaines, a vineyard owner and old friend who constantly urges Kathleen to marry him but with no success.

Hannah is Liza’s eleven year old daughter, a nice kid who, now that she is growing up, feels her mother’s protective nature as more restrictive than nurturing. She, like Liza, loves the sea and the creatures that live in it, the whales and the dolphins who pass through Silver Bay. But she is growing up and wants to explore other places. When the chance comes to see New Zealand with her school, Hannah is keen to go but Liza refuses. Hannah is also enthusiastic about sailing on the sea herself in her own boat but this is something that Liza will never endorse. What is the cause of Liza’s reticence when faced with providing Hannah with more freedom?

Mike is an Englishman who is sent by his London company to scout the area and arrange for the development of Silver Bay into a watersports’ resort as an investment for the venture capitalists that his employers represent. He is engaged to be married to the boss’ daughter, Vanessa and has his life very nicely mapped out indeed: a successful career, a financially sound future, a woman who loves him but is he wholly committed to that life, especially after the time he has spent in Silver Bay?

Greg is the captain of one of the whale watching boats that go out into the bay. He has recently become divorced and his sometimes erratic behaviour shows that he is probably not handling it all that well. He drinks a lot but he is not a bad bloke and he is especially kind to Hannah, although he does hold a torch for Liza that is not returned except when Liza has had too much to drink herself and seeks an escape. He sees Mike as a rival and the two of them are wary of each other.

Liza is an interesting character, who is portrayed by Moyes as guarded and aloof and so, as a result, she attracts attention which she would probably rather not receive. When she heads out on her boat, it is guaranteed that she will find the whales; it is like they come to her, seek her out. Of course, this ability to link with her fellow creatures on what would appear to be an almost spiritual level, only adds to the air of mystery that surrounds her. She is highly protective of Hannah and we learn through the course of the book that one of the reasons for this is that she has lost a child, a sister to Hannah. Her reticence to engage seems to stem from her past and although Greg is keen to have a relationship with her, it is Mike who seems to draw her focus more.

Monica is Mike’s sister and fiercest critic, seeing the way that he lives his life as similar to being on a conveyor belt where he is always on an even track, being transported through it smoothly without really paying heed to how he may be feeling or what he truly wants from life but just letting it pass him by, taking what he receives but not necessarily being fulfilled by it. Monica is single, a reporter and it is her investigative work, prompted by Mike that changes things for Liza, Hannah and Kathleen in Silver Bay.

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I have touched on, in my summary of Mike, the changes that are being brought to Silver Bay, Mike being the businessman with the plan which will radically change the landscape of the bay and therefore, the lives of everyone in it. His proposed development is a source of conflict within the book, especially with the character of Mike himself as he assimilates into life in laid back Australia, originally keeping his reason for being there a secret.

But it is not just the plans that he proposes that bring change: it is the man himself and the impact that his presence has on the dynamic of the group of whale watchers and Bay inhabitants as he adds an extra element to their tightly knit family.

There is also the secret that Liza harbours which is revealed gradually in the narrative that leads you to understand her attitude and actions a lot more clearly. To tell you the ending would be unforgiveable but as with all of Moyes’ books, it is satisfying and leaves the reader warm and fuzzy with a tear in their eye.

There are some great moments in this book: when Mike cuts a dolphin from a net; when Liza tries to save a whale calf, to name two. Moyes shows how the sea and living close to it and its creatures can really get into your blood and this resonates with me as someone who grew up within walking distance of the sea. But, in my opinion, one thing that lets this book down is an event in the plot that seems to me just too easily resolved – this is difficult to discuss without giving too much away – but it concerns a character who has shown that they are not likely to compromise; that what is asked of them would warrant a fight and this just doesn’t happen and for me, did not ring true. Did it detract from my enjoyment? Only marginally but it did grate on me and mean that this book, despite my love of Australia and Moyes’ narrative prowess, would not make it into my top 5 Moyes’ novels.

If you do read it at all, drop me a comment or an email to let me know if you agree or disagree with my assessment. I would love to hear your views.

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