Audiobook Review: The Weight of Water

Following my post for Sea Glass by Anita Shreve and where I made the comment this being my first Shreve book, a recommendation (thanks Mrs. P!) to read “The Weight of Water”  was made, for it was one of the best books she ever read.  Well, of course, we’re aren’t the type to turn down a recommendation like that! And lo and behold, our public library had it available in audiobook.

Anita Shreve’s writing is like a gift to us wouldn’t you say? Like poetry, her simple and sometimes brisk words can convey such emotion, detail and meaning so exquisitely. I almost fell in to a trance each day listening to this superb story.

The Weight of Water is actually an interwoven tale of two women, more than a century apart, each ultimately undone by their resentment and jealousy.

The contemporary story concerns Jean, she is on a photography assignment to sail to Smuttynose Island, off the coast of New Hampshire and Maine so she can photograph the scene of a murder that took place on that island 150 years earlier. Jean sails with her husband and daughter, sailing with his brother and the brother’s girlfriend. The tension in the close quarters of the people on the boat is revealed to the reader immediately through the description of the tight and cramped space and tight conversational exchanges. Jean suspects her husband is having an affair with his brother’s girlfriend. The point where Jean first clues in to this possibility is where I found Shreve’s beautiful ability to pinpoint with certainty the most believable emotion and tension. It was, perhaps, my favourite part during the contemporary part of the story. Jean is overcome by her jealousy of Adeline and in a moment during a fierce storm, her jealousy pushes her to an event which results in a devestating and life-altering mistake.

The historical story, (the best part of this story, in my opinion, and based on real events) is in regards to murders of two women on Smuttynose which occurred in 1873, and is revealed through the memoir of Maren Hontvet (the sole survivor) and also through trial transcripts. Jean becomes engrossed in this memoir, which has never been found before, and is written in Maren’s hand and provides a detailed account of how she came to leave Norway, leave her beloved brother and older sister and come to the Isles of Shoals with her new husband.  One night, while the men were fishing and couldn’t get home, two of the women in the house were murdered with an ax, one is found the next morning hiding in a cave. (The house is the only one on the island.)

Jean would take from the archives a file from the library’s unorganized archival collection–it is this file which contains the truth about the murders, as recounted by Maren. Here, Shreve does a marvelous job of capturing the essence and sparseness of Maren’s arrival and her new life in the 1870s, and of the immigrant experience upon first arrival to this island of rock. The story unfolds with Maren’s summary of her upbringing in Norway and her life on Smuttynose up to and ultimately including the night of the murders.

I must say you do begin to predict how it is going to end, this does not come as a shocking twist, but this is not the point of it, it is simply the flow and beauty of the language Shreve uses and the history and story as told by Maren that is exquisite and so filled with emotion. I enjoyed every moment of it. A very satisfying read. 4 stars.

You can read real accounts of the murders here and here.

The Hontvet House on Smuttynose Island

Audiobook Review: Sea Glass

Honora noticed that sea glass never breaks

(Click on the picture for a video feature of a sea glass saunter)

Honora and Sexton Beecher are Sea Glass’ main characters to inhabit the same beach house that was the background in Anita Shreve’s two other books, “Fortune’s Rocks” and “The Pilot’s Wife”. The opening to this audiobook is narrated by Ms. Shreve to explain that she acknowledges every house to have a history within its walls needing to be told, and is why she has again used the same house from her previous two novels for this story. This time the beach house is a little dilapitated and needs plenty of elbow grease from Honora and Sexton. First renting, then with a little deceipt on Sexton’s part, they buy it.

“An entire marriage destroyed by a mortgage” Honora

Unfortunately, Sexton makes the downpayment on the eve of the stockmarket crash and this disaster sets the tone for the remainder of their marriage. Learning of how he was able to purchase the house, Honora questions herself, did she ever really trust what he had to say all along in their marriage?

The book also comes with a wonderful cast of characters that I thoroughly enjoyed spending time with. Overall, it is a solid, and lovely piece of work where you can sit back and enjoy. It also provided some background on the organization of unions and the strikes of the textile millworkers in New England during this economically disasterous time.

Quillen McDermott, a loom fixer at the local mills, works hard to keep his younger brothers out of the mills. Francis, an 11-year-old mill worker, looks upon McDermott as a father-figure, and is his fiercely loyal and constant companion. McDermott and other workers are meeting secretly, talking of forming a union and planning a strike. And it is the beach house that becomes the hub of this union activity. It is where McDermott falls for Honora, despising her descpicable husband Sexton.

Losing his job, car and bank loan, Sexton is forced to take a mill job in order to hold onto the house. “Something inside him would be irretrievably lost if he failed to keep the house that he had ruined himself to buy.” Honora’s marriage has been completely altered and strained. The pending strike brings everyone together for a common goal, but it will also change all of their lives forever.
All along, Honora has made a hobby of collecting sea glass on the beach. It is where she meets Boston socialite, Vivian Burton, summering nearby, and whom quickly becomes a fast and loyal friend. And oh! this is where I could listen to Kyra bring Vivian to life all the live-long-day. She caputured the voice and essence of this socialite beautifully! She made me dizzy for that dame I tell ya!

Sea Glass is such a touching tale of love, honour, heartbreak and friendship. Kyra reads it in a very smooth and relaxed manner.

I’m giving it 4 stars. This is the first time I’ve read anything by Anita Shreve and I’m not so sure I would have picked this book up in its paper form had I the chance? I certainly grabbed the audiobook on a whim.

Perhaps it was Kyra’s calm, assured and wonderful narrative that made me kick this rating up a notch, although this was most certainly a wonderful read!

It built up to a solid finish, but I think mostly, I fell in love a little with Kyra and now want to see if she’s narrated any other audiobooks.