The Sea on Our Skin

The Sea on Our Skin
Madeleine Tobert
Reviewed by Nicola Manning
Two Roads
Thu, 16/02/2012

This debut novel from Scottish writer Madeline Tobert follows the lives of Amalia Hoko and Ioane Matete on the South Pacific island they live on.

It begins with Amalia’s lacklustre wedding to Ioane and details the progress of their family thereafter. Highlighting the devastating consequences of the juxtaposition between Ioane’s traveller's life and Amalia’s traditional island values, the novel spans all who influence Amalia during her life. Leaving the maritial home the moment their marriage is consumated, Ioane's visits home with the sole purpose of fathering children become increasingly more violent toward Amalia, until one night she retaliates, with earth-shattering consequences.
Tobert captures the sheltered innocence of remote island life expertly and by using multiple points of view she is able to convey the innocence of Amalia and her family. The simplistic style of her narrative used to describe violent events such as sexual abuse can often demean the events taking place, which has a powerful effect. Tobert uses subtle prose to create an overpowering sense of slow-paced island life, and by changing this pace during the final pages we feel a harrowing sense of inevitability in the fates of Amalia’s children.
Tobert has created an intricate island with an expansive history and many colourful characters, each with a separate plight that we feel sympathetic toward. The beauty of the novel lies in its climatic final pages, as each of the characters we have walked with comes to their own personal tragic fate.

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