Book Review: The Tides Between by Elizabeth Jane Corbett

Issue FiveReviews

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Review by Jayme Constandino

The Tides BetweenAt the crux of it, The Tides Between is a story about self discovery. The narrative follows young girl Bridie Stewart, who at fifteen-years-old, has suffered true hardship. Elizabeth Jane Corbett tells the tale of a sea voyage from London to Port Phillip in 1841, where the lives of people wishing to create new beginnings are brought together in the most difficult trek one could do in that time. Bridie is accompanied by her mother Mary and step-father Alf. The relationship of the family is tested along the way as Bridie still struggles with the death of her father. On board she meets Welsh couple Rhys and Sian who resonate on a soulful level with the young girl.

Corbett’s language and narrative style mimics the voyage of the ship. Beginning slow and settled, for it to be turned on its head as control slips through the fingers of the passengers. Personal strife follows as the middle of the journey finds storms and on board conflict reaches uncontrollable heights. Readers follow along in a similar fashion; easing into the mystery of characters and the reason for their journey, then reacting to the anguish described so delicately by Corbett. The upkeep of nautical terminology and sea imagery contributes to the reader’s experience. The mention of waves is used to describe the wash of emotion – Bridie’s anxiety of maturing; Rhys’ struggle with meshing in the crowd.

For a novel set in the late 19th century and written most recently, there is a surprising balance of modern and traditional language. This ensures the sophisticated tone of the time yet also communicates to the readers of today. There are many elements to this novel that make it unique to other new releases out there, but one that resonates with me is the way the author subtly yet effectively uses language to drive the plot and development. More specifically, the swift yet subtle change in focus between characters Bridie, Rhys and Alf. While the tone remains consistent, there is a slight change to correlate with the character in focus in the chapters. More noticeably, which I can highly appreciate, is the narrator’s depiction of Bridie. Her innocence prevails in the reveals of character and plot development; the way it would be discovered in the mind of a young girl. In keeping of the theme of self discovery, Bridie’s innocence and observations are crucial. The novel excellently articulates things the way her young mind would piece things together, as she learns of her maturing, as do the readers. The five-month journey is in no way glossed over in full; it’s as though you’re kept in the present.

Corbett delves into the notion of personal perceptions and how they are constantly challenged. If not already on the character list, Bridie’s notebook is arguably a main character whose existence helps young Bridie understand the concept of grief. The readers are immediately connected to the physicality of the notebook as Corbett wastes no time describing its importance, even without any background knowledge. As Mary and Alf contest the presence of the notebook, Bridie becomes vulnerable and her perceptions of her father become challenged. Alf and Rhys, while polar opposites at first look, both struggle with their own perceptions. The novel weaves through Rhys’ struggle with his identity as an individual, while Alf’s attempt to be authoritative is challenged and he realises that being real is more desirable than being in charge.

Overall, I enjoyed the emotional rollercoaster that is the timely novel of grief, risk and new beginnings.