Since I first heard of this novel through Twitter (prolific source of to-be-read refs ever), I’ve been intrigued by the idea of saltwater vampires.
What were they? For some reason, my mind flashed to bayous and the backwoods, alligators and inbreeding.
But I couldn’t have been more wrong! Admittedly, I would’ve been glad to read the bayou narrative, but Kirsty Eagar’s novel is set in a small coastal town in Australia.
The evocation of place is very well done, with the dynamic of the locals servicing regular influxes of tourists and musical festival goers capturing the unglamorous, tedious side of living in holiday zones.
The novel opens with an attack on a young surfer, who is one of the teens at the core of the novel. The group has layers of fractured relationships, and the reasons for why things are the way they are are revealed gradually as the growing vampire danger becomes apparent.
The genesis of the vampire threat manifests as part of one of Australia’s classic maritime shipwrecks, the Batavia. Not being much of a maritime historian, and generally disliking transport histories (e.g. great rail journeys of Upper Weasel Badgerville), I’ve only really read Simon Leys’ book on this subject (note: it’s very short…). Certainly a tale that lends itself to creative infusion and a deft supernatural spin, which is what Eagar achieves.
There’s a lot that’s right about the tone of the novel. One of the things I really enjoyed was the way Eagar describes the surfing. I should flag that I’ve never surfed; I have, in fact, never wanted to surf. Her in-the-know description of the scene, its hierarchies and moves, however, was fabulous. As in the best kinds of narratives, this material serves more than a ‘colourful’ purpose and is nicely referenced throughout the book.
Also notable is Eagar’s ability to produce the voices and attitudes of the teenage protagonists. Their interactions and priorities, the way they talk with or silence each other – these aspects were engagingly done and very evocative. Hormones still run rampant and there’s boy and girl troubles, jealousy and misunderstanding. The story is very much the teens’, with none of the parents (or grandparents) featuring in any significant way. The adult who gets the most air-time in the novel is Clifford, the Piravem hunter, and he’s a great, rich character.
Eagar has created what is, for me, a compelling and fresh twist on the saturated terrain of vampire lore. This is no mean feat. The book’s dialogue is clever, with its pacing alternating between the banter and occasional introspection of the tight circle of friends to the rapidly strengthening menace of the vampire circle.
After finishing the book, I still recall a teasing loose end that I hope may turn up in another Saltwater Vampire novel. But you’ll have to read it to find out what that might be…
As for me, I’m keeping Eagar on my list of authors whose back-lists I’ll be plundering.