Title: The Painted Ocean
Author: Gabriel Packard
Rating: 2 / 5 Hearts
Amazon: USA | UK
When I was a little girl, my dad left me and my mum, and he never came back. And you’re supposed to be gutted when that happens. But secretly I preferred it without him, cos it meant I had my mum completely to myself, without having to share her with anyone. And I sort of inherited all the affection she used to give to my dad – like he’d left it behind for me as a gift, to say sorry for deserting me
So says eleven year old Shruti of her broken home in suburban middle England. But hopes of her mother’s affection are in vain: speaking little English, and fluent in only Hindi and Punjabi, Shruti’s mother is lost, and soon falls prey to family pressure to remarry. To find another husband means returning to India and leaving Shruti behind.
Meanwhile at school a new arrival, the indomitable Meena, dispenses with Shruti’s bullying problems and transforms her day to day life. Desperate for companionship Shruti latches on to Meena to the point of obsession, following her through high school and on to university. But when Meena invites Shruti to join her on holiday in India, she has no idea how dangerous her obsession will turn out to be…
Unfortunately I did not enjoy this book – although I did read it until the end, despite thinking about giving up at multiple points. My first problem with it is the writing style and language. Everything is written from the point of view of Shruti and how she thinks. Now teenagers may very well think like this, but it is extremely frustrating and annoying to read the English language being butchered in every single sentence. Not only does every other sentence begin with “And”, so do paragraphs and entire chapters. And then she did this. And then I did that. And then I walked here. And then I walked away again. And then, and, and, and – ugh! It drove me crazy. Instead of using the word “said”, we hear “Like” used very often. And like, she was like “Yes” like that, like. And. Cos – that’s the third word that is used everywhere, cos. Cos this, and like that, cos like this. No, please, stop! I have never found a characters voice so incessantly irritating before.
The second most frustrating thing is that Shruti is stupid. She is stupid beyond the pale, despite getting good A-Levels and getting into university, which suggests she has intelligence. She makes ridiculously bad decisions, over and over and over. At first, it was explained by her desperation to form a bond – first, with her mother, second, with Meena. She is psychologically and emotionally damaged and that explains a lot. But there comes a point at which her decision making no longer makes sense, even if she is mentally ill. Reality was simply stretched too far in her character for me to find any credibility with it after around 50% of the way through the book, when the insanity starts really ramping up.
I thought that the plot was interesting – crazy, inventive and unlikely, but enough to keep me wondering what was going to happen next, but I just hated the language and the main character so much that I couldn’t enjoy the thrill of the plot at all. I had to read this book in small chunks to get it finished – I did want to see what happened, but I simply couldn’t take much pleasure from the process of reading it as I found it so grating.
I feel like this book is going to be one of those “love it” or “hate it” deals. Those who find Shruti’s voice believable and enjoy reading her style of language will no doubt be gripped by the plot and enjoy the book. But for me, it just didn’t work.