The Secrets at Ocean’s Edge is a heartbreakingly beautiful exploration of a family’s search for belonging, and the trials and tribulations that threaten to break them apart. Fans of The Light Between Oceans and The Woolgrower’s Companion will find themselves gripped by Kali Napier’s brilliant debut novel that some have tipped to become an Australian classic.
Set on the coast of Western Australia in 1932, The Secrets at Ocean’s Edge has echoes of the bestselling A Fortunate Life, opening as it does with a family facing tough times. Ernie and Lily Hass have lost nearly everything to the hardships of the Great Depression. Along with their daughter, Girlie, they’ve had to abandon their failing wheat farm and small-town life to move to the coast. Attempting to start a new life and business, they begin to build a summer guesthouse at the ocean’s edge.
But the arrival of Lily’s shell-shocked brother, Tommy, threatens to expose secrets the family have done everything to hide. After three years of incarceration, Tommy is looking for answers and his determined search threatens to destroy the very foundation of the new life they have begun to build.
Inspired by her own family history, Napier has blended fact and fiction to great effect, writing with a raw emotional power that at times, is devastating. The intricacies of life in the tiny coastal town of Dongarra, WA where her great-grandfather lived briefly during the Great Depression are there in fascinating detail. And Napier doesn’t only tackle family secrets, but touches eloquently upon PTSD, homelessness, poverty, and other forces that shape lives.
One of the standout qualities of the wonderful Secrets at Ocean’s Edge is its unforgiving and brutal examination of racial intolerance and prejudice and the deep pain they cause. Napier’s sensitive dealings with the plight faced by Indigenous Australians during the period add to the novel’s empathetic and intelligent voice.
Written from multiple points of view, Napier blurs the lines of what we might think is right and wrong. From secrets to resolutions, each character has their own struggles and decisions to make – like real life, nothing is black and white. Tommy is especially well drawn, his concerns highlighting the struggles of returning veterans and their attempt to reintegrate back into civilian life. Lily and Girlie are other standouts, both strong women who navigate a world in which they are not equals.
About the Author
Kali Napier worked in Bangladesh as an anthropologist on gender programs before working as an Aboriginal family history researcher for the Queensland government and as a Native Title anthropologist in the mid-west of Western Australia, the setting for The Secrets at Ocean’s Edge. The novel was longlisted for the Bath Novel Award as was her first manuscript. Napier was also a finalist in the Hachette Australia Manuscript Development Program and is currently a Master of Philosophy candidate in creative writing at the University of Queensland. The character of Ernie in The Secrets at Ocean’s Edge is based on her great-grandfather, who settled briefly in Dongara during the Depression. Napier’s parents were married in Delhi, hence her name, Kali. She led a peripatetic childhood, growing up in rural England, Abu Dhabi, Algeria and Indonesia. Kali now lives in Queensland with her two ‘beautiful and utterly ratbag’ children.