Tides by Sara Freeman review – an experimental study of grief

With its highly fragmented form, this is a poignant evocation of a woman adrift in the wake of tragedy

Each page of Sara Freeman’s debut novel holds a slim paragraph, two at most. And if there are two paragraphs on one page, then these are divided by the symbol of a crescent moon, so that at no point is any section of text close to touching another. At all moments, the writing in Tides has to contend with an expanse of vacant space. The experience of reading such a novel is like travelling through a series of expertly designed studio flats. You marvel at every interior you come to: a whole unto itself, not a foot wrong in the design. But then you turn the page and enter yet another four walls, the last beginning to fade from your mind. Only at the end are you able to conceive of all these paragraphs at once, imagine a whole tower block of crafted text.

Prior to the novel’s start, Mara, the main character, underwent the tragedy of a stillbirth. After that, she could no longer endure any of the relationships that bordered that terrible experience – not with her husband, nor her brother, his wife and their new baby, who lived on the floor below her apartment, “their joy so firmly lodged beneath her grief”. And so she boards a bus that will take her far away, to an American seaside town: 2,353 inhabitants, a few shops, hostels, then the bay and the water beyond that. For much of the novel, she drifts from place to place, staying at various hostels, spending nights passed out blind drunk on the beach or with strange men – before she finds more permanent residence in the disused attic of a wine shop, where she has got herself a temporary job.

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