In Poppy Gee’s Bay of Fires, a Swiss backpacker’s body is discovered on the beach in a small holiday town on the coast of Tasmania, where our heroine Sarah Avery has returned to stay with her family. Sarah has come back in self-imposed disgrace after her job and relationship went pear-shaped in Queensland.
Sarah is a great character, a thirty-something who loves fishing and likes to drink. Although there’s much more to learn about her, sometimes this fishing/no-frills side is over-emphasized; we get it—she’s not typically feminine. The novel does have a certain tendency to over-explain—perhaps aiming for an international readership, there are definitions for things like ‘the tip’ and ‘quolls’, and sometimes characters we’ve already met are re-introduced.
The portraits of the locals keep it compelling, though. Some of the story is also narrated from the perspective of embittered local journalist covering the death, Hall Flynn. The switches between Sarah’s and Hall’s perspectives feel nicely haphazard.
This is a beautiful picture of the Australian bush, and of the dragging pace of a summer beach holiday with people Sarah’s known all her life: that family Christmas feeling of eternal, inescapable childhood. The mystery simmers along towards a slow reveal, matching the summer holiday lethargy and the small community undercurrents of secrets and prejudices.
Maybe as a reader of Australian lit-fic you don’t need any more white middle-class searches for self, but I apparently I do, because I enjoyed it thorougly.