The Bodysurfers by Robert Drewe

There’s a strange sense of synchronicity when an event in the news closely aligns with a book that you are reading.

That happened when I was finishing The Bodysurfers by Robert Drewe, when the media was flooded with reports of a prominent media identity’s habitual sexual harassment of women. It was hard not to draw parallels between a particular character  in one of the book’s short stories and the news reports dominating the daily news.

In The View from the Sandhills, Drewe writes from the perspective of a man who is fixated with women’s bodies. The narrator speaks in crude terms of the women he sees as he obsessively watches naked sunbathers at a nearby beach. Here, there were echoes of the harassment perpetrated on women who worked with the real-life celebrity. The ending is one of the book’s most ominous.

In The Bodysurfer, Drewe’s stories are gritty, disturbing and sometimes repugnant. Yet, his deft touch makes them irresistible. Each of the stories is set in a beach location where the characters either turn to deal with past and current hurts or embark on new lives. Some are recently divorced, others are trying to keep the spectre of jealousy at bay.

In one story, an affair turns sour as a result of clues left on a bottle of baby oil, while in another, a family deals with its own tensions on a holiday, not far from the site of a recent, brutal murder.

Themes of disappointment, desperation, despair and lust all merge, with stories overlapping and revealing common characters. Amid the heat of the sand and the force of the waves, the slick of oil and hedonism of holidays, sensuousness is mixed with a strong, simmering sense of menace.

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