A tale of wrecked men

By Rhonda Dredge

In A Jealous Tide by Anna MacDonald the narrator is a woman who is adept at finding space for reflection. 

She is a self-contained narrator who loves wandering by water. 

Her favourite form of narrative is the personal recount. 

Most of this novel describes the narrator’s encounter with the geography of Melbourne around the Yarra and London around the Thames.

Hammersmith Bridge, in particular, attracts her attention and it becomes the punctum where two narratives intersect. 

“It was my habit that summer to walk along the downstream side of the Hammersmith Bridge and back along its upstream path,” the narrator writes.

“Returning one day, I happened to pause by the balustrade to look down at the puckered plaque and read.”

The message on the plaque concerns an airman who died rescuing a woman from the river in 1919.

The narrator, who is London to do research in the library on Virginia Woolf, finds her scholarly eye more attracted to texts on drownings. 

She follows her whim and a more complex narrative of a suicidal woman and her rescuer emerges out of the mix of literary and physical meanderings. 

The airman is a stranger to London and when he takes up digs in the war-torn city he has to switch from the aerial view that has dominated his life to mapping the world at close quarters.

This takes him quite a while as he reacquaints himself with mundane objects and their parameters, (the coldness of the brass door knob, for example) which help him reset his limits.

Similarly, the power of this strange, pared-back book rests in its particular and poised style. There is no dialogue nor conflict; nor are there plot twists and complications. 

As the two narratives merge they meander towards a foregone conclusion, prefigured on page 51 by the note on the balustrade concerning the airman’s death. 

“I care only for some species of forward movement, one that keeps me always stepping ahead into the future, while constantly returning me to the past,” the narrator writes. “That keeps me still and still moving.”

This novel is very much about the telling and what a delight this is, a refreshing change from the information overload and genre postures of much contemporary fiction. Just one interpretation is made by the narrator. Perhaps this is the thesis of the book. According to her research on drownings, imagination works against survival. 

Wrecked men should listen to their officers if they want to be rescued and this novel should be read while travelling into the CBD where the author works •

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