The Glass Ocean

Written by Lori Baker
Review by Hanne Pearce

The Glass Ocean is a story told in hindsight by orphaned Carlotta Dell’orro, who tells of her birth through her parents’ story. In Victorian England, Leonardo Dell’orro is a socially awkward artist, while Clotilde Girard is the daughter of a self-professed naturalist and world traveller. They become acquainted while on Narcissus, a ship set upon a voyage of naturalist pursuits, and both are imbued with their own distilled form of narcissism. Leo is obsessed with his art and possesses an otherworldly admiration for Clodtilde but continuously feels dissatisfied on both fronts. Clodtilde is a beautiful but frivolous girl who nurtures her own vanity and an admiration for her father.

The disappearance of Clotilde’s father serves as the catalyst for their marriage, and they settle in Whitby on the North Sea, where Leo learns about glassmaking while Clotilde suffers in loneliness. Despite their dismal domestic situation and characters that come between them, Leo and Clotilde remain together out of necessity, immersed in their own obsessions. Carlotta, the product of this elusive alliance, arrives just in time to witness the final disintegration of what was always a very fragile, almost glass-like union.

The Glass Ocean is remarkable in that its chief draw lies not in revealing what happened, but how it happened. It is a sad story reconstructed on a foundation of small facts, colored and filled with the suppositions and faint memories of a daughter who barely knew her parents. It may take more than a handful of pages to acclimatize oneself to Carlotta’s voice, which is poetic, repetitive and not always linear. Nevertheless, Lori Baker has skillfully captured the washed-out colors, hollow sounds, intense aromas and damp-filled feel of this gray world of Whitby. One walks away from this haunting story feeling chilled by the apathy of its characters and intrigued by the art and the era.