The Westerners’ illusions about the poor is one of the themes of Ann Patchett’s novel, State of Wonder, about secret research in the muddy waters of the Brazilian jungle. It’s not too much of a boat ride from the Amazon basin to the West Indies, the setting for Jean Rhys’s reimagining of Charlotte Brontë’s mad-woman-in-the-attic, The Wide Sargasso Sea. Depending on how far they’ve drifted off course, we might also encounter Grace Winter on those waters, fighting for survival in Charlotte Rogan’s debut novel, The Lifeboat. From there, we could sail through the Panama Canal into the Pacific ocean, where, in Yan Martel’s debut, The Life of Pi, a young man shares his lifeboat with a hyena, a zebra, an orangutan and a 450-pound Bengal tiger.
Across the other side of the world, beach life is also a feature of Tim Winton’s Breath, a coming-of-age novel about sex and surfing and the fine line between exhilaration and terror. I’m staying in Australia for my final choice, where the heat reminds me again of my garden’s need of rain. Kate Grenville’s The Idea of Perfection evokes another way of traversing a stretch of water in the story of the unlikely relationship between a refugee of three marriages and an awkward divorcee charged with demolishing an antique bridge, the only tourist attraction in a dying country town.
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On the subject of bridges, how about a musical interlude for an old folksong in a modern recording about the river running through the city in which I lived for twenty years from the age of 18.
We pulled up alongside a wooden shack with a blistered Coca-Cola sign above the entrance. The driver had barely stepped inside the ramshackle shop when they came, swarming round the windows of the SUV with their cupped hands and pleading faces.
It was sweltering inside without the aircon. When the driver returned bearing gallon bottles of water, we gave him a round of applause.
Leaving the village, we pointed our cameras at the shallow river where women scrubbed rainbow-coloured clothes and children splashed in the shallows. Where, in rusting cans and old oil drums, girls harvested the household’s water.
If you’re interested in the themes in this story, you’ll find some useful links in my post from World Tourism Day last year. But before you go, I’d love to know what’s your favourite watery novel, as well as what you think of this flash. And do pause, if you can to contemplate the ducks on my pond.