The Starboard Sea
By Amber Dermont
Constable & Robinson – £14.99
The Starboard Sea by Amber Dermot really is a most intriguing read.
She has captured a young man’s ‘coming of age’ with a great mixture of both poignancy and fun: Jason Prosper is the younger son of a wealthy financier. Having been removed from his school following an ‘incident,’ he is shipped off to Bellingham Academy to complete his senior year.
Notorious for being home to wayward kids – Bellingham at least has a strong sailing faculty, which luckily, happens to be Jason’s big love in life. And I have to add, that the authoress writes with an abundant authority and ease with regards sailing.
In fact, upon reflection, I had to remind myself that Dermot was female, especially given that the book is written from the perspective of a young man.
Moreover, what I particularly liked about the book is the way she has captured the varying complexities of growing up. Not to mention all the love, longing and grief that the coming of age often entails.
In this particular instance, the anguish and pain experienced by Jason’s character, which is particularly brought to bear in chapter ten: ‘’I tried cleaning my room, throwing all of my dirty clothes into a knapsack. The worst part of that night was that I knew I would wake up the following day. My face would greet me in the mirror, I would walk down hallways and into rooms and my name would be called and I would hear the call and answer. I would go on. The linear progression of time would rule and I would be caught in its mornings and afternoons. The nights would come and I would feel alone. When Cal died, I thought time would cease to recognise me. Thought that I would step into some new dimension. I realised how innocent I’d been and how much worse it was now to know the unsettling truth about grief.’’
Despite being set in a rich kids playground, The Starboard Sea is not over the top in a crass’n’ghastly Paris Hilton sort of way. Rather, it does much to depict how the ordinary Joe might imagine a school where money talks – and nepotism wins out every time – to be.
The book is in parts, perhaps laughable, while in others, just plain pitiful, as conveyed in one of the conversations in chapter nine: ‘’My mother had once told Riegel and me this story about a friend of hers who lived in Newport. ‘’Poor Celia,’’ she’d said. ‘’She lost two of her houses to hurricanes. Still has the farm in Rhinebeck, and it’s a lucky thing that she has the ranch in Jackson Hole and her home on Jupiter Island. Otherwise, I just don’t know what she would do.’’ Riegel and I both dropped to our knees with laughter. The phrase ‘’Poor Celia’’ became code for us. A shorthand for outrageous privilege.’’
I have to confess that The Starboard Sea isn’t just a coming of age book. There is an actual plot to follow – albeit a tragic one.
It’s not quite a Romeo and Juliet storyline, but its many woven complexities account for it being one of the finest novels I’ve read so far this year.