The Restless Sea

Written by Vanessa de Haan
Review by Val Adolph

At the outbreak of WW2, Olivia, the spoilt and immature daughter of aristocratic English parents, is sent to her aunt in Scotland for safety. There she finds her own strength in the rough hills and silent lochs. Charlie, her cousin, is a young officer flying planes from an aircraft carrier, chasing U-boats that are picking off merchant ships. Initially his ship is based on the loch near his godmother’s house in Scotland, but before he can visit her, the ship is ordered to Scapa Flow in the Orkney Islands. Jack is a child of the London slums, stealing and picking pockets to try to keep food on the family table. At the insistence of a friend, he joins the Merchant Navy and is sent to a training ship to learn the ropes. He joins the cargo ship Aurora as an apprentice.

The lives of these three are intertwined throughout this novel as Olivia finds that she cares for Charlie but loves Jack. The difference in their backgrounds will become an issue, she knows that, but in wartime she faces more immediate problems. First, she must find Jack’s younger sister, who seems to have vanished after being evacuated from London.

While the complexities of the relationships—and the struggle to maintain them during the uncertainties of warfare—form the essence of this novel, its richness lies in the vivid descriptions of battles fought in the sky and on the ocean. The dreadful injuries, the loss of life, and the losses of loved ones and deep friends are graphically illustrated. The stories of Jack, Charlie and Olivia illustrate raw human tragedies created by the blunders of military and naval strategies. These are laid bare as the author makes us feel the pain of these vast losses. A beautifully layered, expressive novel. Recommended.