THE WINTER SEA
Author: Di Morrissey
Macmillan Australia RRP $32.99
Review: Monique Mulligan
With sales in excess of 2 million worldwide, it’s easy to see why Di Morrissey is regarded as one of Australia’s favourite authors (publisher Pan MacMillan assets that she is the favourite author). I haven’t read any of her books and I can’t really think why … I just haven’t. The Winter Sea marketing promises readers “a sweeping saga of family, honour and secrets set on the beautiful NSW south coast”, all elements I adore in books and a place I’m familiar with, so I was keen to dive into it.
The Winter Sea begins with the story of Giuseppe Aquino (Joe), an Italian man who migrates to Australia in search of better opportunities. After moving to Sydney, he moves to Whitby Point (a fictional town on the NSW south coast) and eventually builds a successful fishing business. Years later, Cassie Holloway moves to this town, leaving behind a broken marriage and a corporate career in law; she settles in quickly and meets a new love interest, Michael, who happens to be Joe’s great-grandson. As she realises the foodie delights the surrounding area offers, she takes the big step of setting up a small restaurant serving seasonal food, with plenty of support from locals, including the Aquino family. Life is as good as the food she’s serving until the family patriarch dies, a devastating family secret is revealed and the Aquino family turns against her.
In this novel, Morrissey explores a variety of themes including belonging, opportunity, estrangement, love, immigration, fresh starts and family. Joe and Cassie, although generations apart, are on a quest to make a fresh start and a new life, and to find a place where they belong. It’s a theme which has wide appeal, since each of us, at some time feels that need to find our true place in the world. Through Joe, Morrissey looks at a migrant’s perspective – how hard would it have been to move to such an isolated country and be met with suspicion and all sorts of new rules and ways of doing things? Joe’s story, more than Cassie’s, resonated because he had so much more to overcome. Both sides of my family immigrated from Germany in the 1950’s and I can only imagine how hard that would have been. Cassie’s story offered another perspective – a woman caught up in a career that did not have her heart, who uses the catalyst of a broken marriage to reinvent herself. It’s nothing new … but something many women can relate to.
The descriptions of the south coast were vivid and enticing – living in Perth nowadays, I found myself remembering camping trips down south with my dad to a place called Bendalong, as well as day trips to Kiama and the Shoalhaven area; one day, I will take Blue Eyes there and he will see how beautiful the coastline is down that way. What stood out for me in The Winter Sea was the sense of place created by Morrissey – she certainly has a strength in this area. However, the rest of the novel fell a bit flat. I didn’t feel what I wanted and expected to feel about some of the events/characters in the book and I think that’s because the writing style leaned more towards telling than showing. As I read, I kept thinking the writing was pitched for a younger age group, which was strange and bothered me more than once.
Overall, I rate The Winter Sea an OK, but not great, read. Other reviews have been mixed – some love it, others have suggested it’s not her best. Since these latter reviewers also noted that many of her other books are fantastic, I would read another Morrissey book to see whether I agree. Any suggestions as to which one?
Available from good bookstores and Pan Macmillan. This copy was courtesy of Pan Macmillan.
Bookish treat: I had some fish and chips at the beach while reading this. Tasted great at the time.