Abbie feels abandoned in her own hometown. Her older sister, Anna, has moved away for University, leaving Abbie stranded with her distant mother and meticulous stepfather. Abbie’s real father is starting a new family with his pregnant girlfriend, wiping the slate clean, or so it seems. Abbie has also distanced herself from school friends, and been abandoned by her best friend Petey in favour of her new boyfriend, Jake.
But all of these cut ties and drifting friendships are nothing compared to losing her step-cousin, Kane. After a confusing Christmas encounter, Kane and his friends went for a surf photo shoot overseas and absence has certainly made Abbie’s heart grow fonder. For weeks she has been thinking and obsessing about Kane, missing him and remembering their ‘almost’ moment.
Abbie fills the time between waiting for school and Kane by thinking about her all-important final art project, and surfing. She duck-dives and rips through the waves, paddles out every day until she’s numb with cold. Accompanying her are new friends and local art/surfer boys Max and Oliver Wood (aka, ‘Ollie Wood’, aka ‘Hollywood’). And for a little extra money she babysits a little girl called Joey, a budding young artist with a curious imaginary friend named Pinty.
And then Kane comes home.
Abbie is still under his spell, and elated by the news that he has recently dumped his girlfriend. Kane’s time away, surfing with friends around remote islands, has improved his technique and turned him into an even more ruthless surfer. Abbie admires his bravado on the waves, the way his powerful body cuts through the surf . . . but something has changed about Kane. His first day back in town and he picks a fight with the meanest old boy there is, Greg Hill, sparking a nasty territory war amongst the local surfers.
But that’s not the only thing that has changed about him. He’s hot to the touch with gouges on his skin. His shadow is not right, and a cryptic message in the back of his notebook has Abbie looking over her shoulder.
Something happened on those islands, and Kane has come back changed. While Abbie tries to figure out what’s wrong with him, her artwork takes on an intensity that scares even her. The only other person who seems to realize Abbie’s concerns is her babysitting charge, Joey. A little girl whose invisible friend, Pinty, understands about the black thing following Kane, and knows where Abbie must go. . .
There is an old maritime superstition that says if the rim of a glass rings, there are shipwrecks ahead. In the weeks after Kane’s return, the peal of vibrating glass can be heard constantly, warning of the wreckage. . .
‘Night Beach’ is the much-anticipated new YA novel from Kirsty Eagar, winner of the 2010 Victorian Premier's Literary Award for her debut, ‘Raw Blue
In her first novel, Kirsty Eagar introduced readers to an angry and scarred young woman named Carly who found catharsis in surfing, but whose grief and anger could not be washed away, no matter how much she tried to purge them. In her follow-up novel, ‘Saltwater Vampires
’, Eagar turned Australia’s sun, sand and surf into a spine-tingling Gothic setting for a vampire horror story. The best way I can describe her third novel, ‘Night Beach’ is as a glorious blend of these first two books – the emotional complexities of ‘Raw Blue
’, examining relationships and wanting, combined with the sinister surf setting of ‘Saltwater Vampires’, with a supernatural malevolence plaguing our heroine.
Our protagonist in ‘Night Beach’ is Abbie, a talented young artist who feels cast adrift in her life. Her older sister, Anna, is arguably the only real family Abbie has left – and even she has abandoned her to study in Canberra. Abbie is left with her reserved mother and Brian, dull-as-dishwater step-father. Abbie’s real father lives interstate, with his pregnant girlfriend, busy creating a new family. Abbie has so many disconnections in her life – even her best friend has abandoned her for the holidays, choosing to vacation with her all-important boyfriend. But the biggest loss in Abbie’s young life has been the recent death of her grandfather – a cranky old bugger who enjoyed morning swims in the ocean and gifted Abbie with numerous and curious treasures.
It is little wonder then that Abbie has a particular obsession with her step-cousin, Kane, who lives with Abbie and her family in a basement for rent. A not-quite pro surfer, Kane is the archetypal surf boy – concerned only with catching waves and picking up girls. Abbie knows he is not the best target for her young romantic feelings – and her best friend, ‘Hollywood’, has cautioned her against those feelings enough times. When Abbie has so few links in her life, she finds comfort in her steadfast feelings for Kane, even as she rallies against their hopelessness (not least of all because of their familial connections, however distant and bloodless).
I don’t want romance and stolen kisses and sweetness and hand holding. I want something so big it’s like two planets colliding, with an aftershock that I feel for the rest of my life.
But when Kane returns from a surf trip with his mates, there is something decidedly wrong with him. He’s cagey and cryptic, talking about a mysterious island he visited with those mates and the local’s superstitions of the place after dark for its ‘bad demon ***’. Abbie observes Kane’s erratic behaviour with growing concern – his punch-up with the local surf bully, and a shifting shadow that seems to cloak him, that only Abbie can see. . .
There is such a sinister ambiance throughout ‘Night Beach’, that Eagar’s ability to conjure fright and tension in the reader is bordering on sublime . . . I read this book at night, under the covers and looking out the window into a blackened evening. And I've got to say, it was the best way to read a book that so delights in being a horror story. Once again, Eagar masterfully paints a very different version of Australia’s iconic sandy beaches – turning them once more into an unsettled and unpredictable landscape. Question-marks drawn into the sand, a flock of birds shedding hundreds of feathers in the surf. . . Eagar slowly but surely flips Aussie geography on its axis, and imbues it with a whole new meaning and menace.
Abbie loves surfing, but what she really craves is the ocean. When no place and no one in Abbie’s life truly feel permanent or reliable, the ocean feels like home. So it’s wonderful to read the way the beauty of the sea turns into a very different landscape throughout the book, warping and shifting with Kane’s mystery that seems somehow linked to Abbie and her sacred home. The other way Eagar turns the tide is in the violence of the men for whom the ocean is a playground, and they’re king of the kids. Local surfer Greg Hill was once great, but is now a bullying menace on the waves. He harasses Abbie’s friend, Hollywood, and is hell-bent on a revenge attack against Kane. This too is something Eagar excels at; her observations of men and their pack-like behaviour, both in the water and out, that is wonderfully translated through the politics of surfing;
To really belong, you have to be really good, really tough, really psychotic, really fearless, really misogynistic, really violent – any of these might do. But loving it isn’t enough. And being nice is a handicap, unless you’re also an excellent surfer, in which case they’ll say you’re a top bloke. Only blokes belong of course, but that goes without saying.
Abbie is the stand-out of this novel. She’s utterly relatable and wonderful – navigating her first and arguably doomed love with older step-cousin, Kane. She is the book’s narrator, and some of her observations of this tricky time in her life, when her feelings overrun her common sense, are enviably communicated.
Pretending to be good, even if no one is around to see it, calms me down. It makes me feel virtuous and protected. Clean of sex stink.
But Abbie is especially interesting for her other obsession - art. She has prints of Brett Whitely works hanging on her wall, and expresses her thoughts in relation to Rene Magritte illusionary classics. There’s a real delight in reading ‘Night Beach’, of writing down the artists Abbie references and looking up the artworks she is thinking about; like the surreal splendour of a Dorothea Tanning painting, or ‘Thebes Revenge’ that she loves most.
‘Night Beach’ reads like an ocean swell; turning and flipping the reader, dunking us under the cool depths of Eagar’s beautiful and complex story. It is at once a coming-of-age novel, as Abbie comes to terms with her imperfect and fractured family, and her complicated love for Kane. The book is also a look at the influences and triggers of creativity – as Abbie looks at her world with an artist’s eye, and feeds her creative instincts with her problematic feelings for Kane, and the shadowy presence that haunts him. . . which carries us to the final aspect of the book, the pervading danger that Kane bought home with him, the ‘something’ that stalks Abbie and sets wine glasses ringing. . .
‘Night Beach’ is the quintessential young adult horror story – the mysterious shadows will keep you up at night, but it’s the teenage protagonist’s personal struggles that will keep you suctioned to the page, as desperate to find out about her doomed love story as the island mystery. This is, without a doubt, one of the most anticipated new Australian young adult novels of 2012, and Kirsty Eagar’s new tale absolutely earns and deserves all the hype and anticipation.