Tuesday, May 8, 2012

"The Water Children"

Anne Berry was born in London and moved to Hong Kong at the age of six, where she was educated. She founded a small drama school, writing and directing more than thirty plays in ten years, and now lives in Surrey with her husband and four children. Her first novel, The Hungry Ghosts, was a finalist for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize.

Berry applied the Page 69 Test to her latest novel The Water Children, and reported the following:
I held my breath as I flipped through The Water Children to page 69. Then a sigh of relief. It is one of the most poignant moments in the book. In the wake of his sister’s death by drowning, weighed down by the unbearable guilt Owen bears for his part in the accident, his family disintegrates. His mother has sought solace in the arms of another man. In a house where father and son have been deserted, Owen haunts his dead sister’s bedroom. Here he is tormented by the Merfolk, ghostly sea creatures who have invaded his young mind since the tragedy. In the early hours of the morning he hears his mother steal into the house. Creeping from his room he finds her seated on the stairs, her suitcase across her knees. Now he faces the ultimate rejection. His mother is leaving him. Does she go? You must turn the page to find out. Page 69 in my novel is a springboard. From this point on it is Owen who seeks to escape bereavement and loss. This is what propels him to London, not to seek his fortune but to seek oblivion from the watery demons that plague his every waking hour. And there he falls in with three other water children fleeing their own devils. All are vulnerable. But Naomi, the darkest water child of them all, oh she is deadly poison! From the moment of their union, paradoxically the fight for freedom from themselves transforms into a trap far more menacing than their scarred pasts.
There is no tea that night. Owen sits upstairs in Sarah’s room on the balding, apple-green coverlet, as the darkness digests the small house. He resists its advance, leaving on the bedside lamp. He will not give way to tiredness and close his eyes. And, as if he is plagued with vertigo crouching on the ledge of a skyscraper, he will not look down either. He does not have to peek to know that they are there, reptiles writhing about Sarah’s bed. Their shadows glide like blue-grey fish among the sweeping ferns of her flocked wallpaper. Sometime in the night, or perhaps it is the morning, he hears the Humber Super Snipe return, hears it revving outside the window. But still he does not move, just follows the Merfolk as they weave and slide along the aquarium walls of Sarah’s bedroom. Later, the click of the front door sounds very loud in the orphaned house, and the drone of the milk truck that follows it, almost deafening.

When he ventures out of Sarah’s room, he finds his mother sitting on the stairs, a suitcase propped on her lap. He has to clamber over her and it is a tricky operation in the greyness. On a lower step he swivels round and, feet apart, legs braced, faces her. For the longest time their eyes lock. He wonders if, like him, she is thinking of the day they made the snowman together.

“Where are you going, Mother?” he asks in a small voice. He hears a noise and glancing over his shoulder sees his father, face crinkled like a used tea bag, cheeks still stained with brown streaks, standing, hands in pockets in the lounge doorway. “Are you leaving, Mother?”
Learn more about the book and author at Anne Berry's website.

--Marshal Zeringue