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The Wading by Tom Eaton PDF Print E-mail
Friday, 15 August 2008 04:59

Published by Penguin.

It is no easy task to create an entirely new place from scratch. Tom Eaton, in his new novel The Wading, has done just that, and done it well.

Cape Formosa is a small island separated from the Mainland by a shallow channel known as the Wading. To some the island is a tropical haven, a place to escape the real world; to others, a prison. The novel begins just as the regular supply aircraft is damaged in a storm, cutting off the island from their one source of contact with the Mainland, and introducing the pilot and his granddaughter to the regular inhabitants of the Cape. Claudette, the granddaughter, is a strangely mature and whimsical child, who holds sway over the two main characters in the book – Muller and Bee.

There is a strong sense of foreboding throughout The Wading, a sense that although things look quite peaceful and staid on the surface, they are about to erupt, and violently. This is a promise that is never quite kept.

Although the characters – the old, enigmatic Muller and the young, headstrong Bee in particular – interact with each other and confront long-held issues, it still feels as though some things have not moved, as if the characters are stuck, somehow, in their lives. This feeling fits rather well with the book as a whole, which references metaphors of shifting sand, overgrown forest and inexorable loss throughout. A rusted aeroplane hidden deep in the forest, a long, hot walk to an office that no longer functions, a formal ball held in a dilapidated building. These are the images that fill The Wading, images of forgotten hopes, despair, and underlying betrayal.

The Wading creates a daydream world for the reader. The writing is strong and descriptive (although at times a little hyperbolic) and it invites the reader into this place where there are hardly any cars, where nobody ever leaves, where the world as most of us know it has been left behind. It is a book of growing up and learning to love, but it is also a book of everything staying the same.

With hints of African politics and a past regime that committed atrocities, there is a topical edge to The Wading, too. It is a layered, haunting book, an accomplished work from an author known more for his humorous writing than his serious fiction. Recommended.