The Secrets at Ocean’s Edge

Written by Kali Napier
Review by Marina Maxwell

Set on the coast of Western Australia during the Great Depression years, this is the story of four members of a family dealing with the challenges of life during that difficult period and all the while keeping secrets, some even from themselves.

Ernie fails at a farming enterprise and takes his family to Dongarra, where he embarks on a new guesthouse venture and is convinced that “life would come good for them.” Lily is his long-suffering wife with social aspirations who tries to ingratiate herself with the “right sort” and influential members of the close-knit community. Their daughter Girlie is the sensitive child who has to try and fit into this new environment. And then there is Tommy, Lily’s itinerant shell-shocked brother, who still suffers hallucinations and nightmares generated by the trenches of World War I.

Through these four points of view there is a tender unravelling of the many misunderstandings, lies, broken promises, and hidden secrets that have woven these characters together. Tommy is gut-wrenchingly tragic, and Lily is particularly well-written and perhaps the most intriguing. The background research and 1930s atmosphere are excellent, and all the characters behave in a manner appropriate to their place in history, including their uncomfortable attitude towards Aboriginal people. As with other novels that are inspired by their authors’ ancestry, here you will find that special extra quality of storytelling that is only found in truth.

If you enjoyed similar recent Australian novels such as Joy Rhoades’ The Woolgrower’s Companion, Lucy Treloar’s Salt Creek, Lisa Bigelow’s We That Are Left, and Rosalie Ham’s The Dressmaker, then this is definitely for you.