[This is my first sort-of book review on this blog, at least in a long time. I've been writing reviews at Goodreads for a few years, and I usually don't reveal any spoilers by speaking less about details, and more about form and feeling and perspective and thought process and application. Let's just go with this and see what happens...]
Only a 3.5 star average on Amazon? I'm surprised. I wasn't the biggest fan of the writing style, which was so fluid as to lull me into a soothing rhythm of meditation, but it is probably exactly the writing style that the book needed. It's not that I was bored reading this -- just calm and meditative. I wasn't falling asleep, but I had the experience of reading to the end of a page and realizing I didn't know what I'd read. Then I'd go back, start at the last spot I remembered, get to the end of the page, and realize I again didn't retain anything. This happened more than I usually have patience for. But I envisioned the narrator of the story as an old man, spinning the yarn of Fan and her love, Reg, to a bunch of us youngsters, seated at his feet. It would be natural for us to zone out from time to time, and zone back in a few minutes later.
After a few sluggish chapters, where my interest was piqued just enough to keep me from putting the book down, the narrator entered a very purposeful, predictable rhythm: giving a wallop of a story, narrating Fan's journey with its hair-raising twists and turns, and then backing off for a long section, filling in details of the back story or the history SO I COULD BREATHE. This alternation felt good for me. I remember at one point, putting down the book to take a breath, and saying out loud to no one in particular, "This book is outrageous." Not outrageous bad, or outrageous outlandish, just WOW. The tension was gripping, the story very compelling.
I guess I thought the book would be rated higher because it really made me think and feel deeply. About the feelings... The quiet affection between Fan and Reg was written so delicately... The way that the narrator tracked the community's simmering reaction to Reg's and Fan's disappearance was easy to attune to... The heartbreaking treatment of an elder in the community as people struggled with emotions they couldn't handle, and turned outward, directed specifically at this man, made me cringe deep in the pit of my stomach.
I'm still thinking about this book! In the future dystopia of On Such a Full Sea, there is explicit social and economic stratification, written rules about where people belong and how they can behave and how little they control their own destinies, and a strong deference to the communal flow over individual thought, choice, and will. Even though those written rules don't exist in the present day, I'm asking myself: How closely do those written rules of the fictional future reflect the unwritten rules by which we live today?