Slack-Tide – Elanor Dymott

A quotation on the cover says:

Her lovers are experienced, flawed, damaged and demanding, but she won’t let them be floored or fooled by emotion

Marina Benjamin

I have tried, but I can’t write a better summary of what makes this book so compelling. It’s the story of a new romance in which both people were previously married to someone else. The narrator (Elizabeth) is determined, but conflicted between how she feels and how she should behave:

I wanted to say that changing his address, he would be taking a step towards thinking of himself as separate from that former, shared life, but that by continuing to report in to her, and allowing her to take receipt of everything that came to him from the outside world, he was in no way free, nor would he ever be.

Instead, I only gently questioned their arrangement.

Elanor Dymott, Slack-Tide, pp62-63

This quotation is Elizabeth in microcosm. First the long, convoluted, but reasonable thought process. Then the restrained, compromising action. As the reader, seeing Elizabeth’s reasoning sometimes helps us to understand and emotionally support her actions, but it’s just as often no help at all. Her lover, Robert, elicits equally uneven empathy.

The title Slack-Tide is explained in the opening sentence of the novel, quoting from Chapman Piloting & Seamanship:

Slack-Tide is the period of quiet water between flood and ebb currents, when there is no perceptible flow in either direction.

Elanor Dymott, Slack-Tide, p1

This nautical theme gives the whole book an oceanic impetus: the reassuring rhythm of the waves masks the unpredictability and infinite unknowability of the sea itself. The novel didn’t seem like a “Slack-Tide” to me. Instead, I had the notion of being adrift in a rowboat atop Elizabeth and Robert’s changing moods. Rather than a judgemental spectator, I felt carried along on the lovers’ various emotional swells and waves. It was wonderful and freeing when everything was in harmony, but when this balance was upset and forces were at odds, that energy quickly became dangerous and unsettling.

Within this often choppy sea, there was a “slack-tide” moment. The busy text breaks into complete calm around the 50-page mark when Elizabeth reflects on the end of her earlier marriage. The sudden uneasy tranquillity and sheer power of the writing in those couple of paragraphs moved me to tears. And then the turbulence of the story resumed, and everything was back to reassuring confusion.

This is a compassionate realistic story of a type of relationship that doesn’t get a lot of air-time.

Not what you’d call action packed, but well-crafted and (in places) deeply moving. If you can, set aside a full day and spend it being carried along by this problematic love affair.

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