Reach by Laurence Fearnley, Penguin, ISBN 9780143571728, RRP $38
You know how sometimes you start reading a book and you think about the characters in a certain way and then they change and you realise you were totally assuming they were this type of character, when it turns out they’re actually not, and it’s a very pleasant surprise?
That’s a long-winded introduction to this review and also exactly what happened when I was reading Reach.
Reach follows three characters, exploring the relationships between them all. Quinn is a successful artist, planning her next exhibition. Marcus is her partner, a vet who is re-establishing his relationship with his teenage daughter, lost when he left his marriage and moved in with Quinn. Callum is an itinerant deep sea diver, living in a campervan, deeply attached to the sea.
We meet Marcus and Quinn first and they are respectively devoted but put-upon, and creative but cold. I assumed these were their tropes, which really was not giving the author enough credit* because as the story unfolds Fearnley does a fantastic job of revealing the different sides to these two people and the ever-changing nature of their relationship.
Marcus may be put upon but it also becomes clear that he does a good line in abdicating responsibility, passively avoiding its sticky little tentacles. Quinn, on the other hand, isn’t passive but observant, like when you purposefully listen to other people so they feel obliged to tell you everything.
Reach is wonderfully written, if a little slow to hit its stride which meant I almost gave it up. It would have been massively disappointed if I had, considering how much I enjoyed it by the end. Fearnley’s strength is in gentle but powerful description, invoking mood and place. Small details matter, and the author clearly knows her stuff (or has researched well) when it comes to the art world, commercial deep sea diving and animal medicine.
Again and again though, I come back to the characters. By the end of the book I genuinely liked them all (even Marcus, though he also annoyed me) and felt like I’d dipped into their lives for a long moment. I wished them well. I felt grateful to Fearnley for giving me access to them. I think many readers will feel the same.
*In my defence this is the first time I’ve read Fearnley.