Wednesday, June 10, 2015

book review: The Shore by Sara Taylor

The backstory: The Shore was longlisted for the 2015 Baileys Prize.

The basics: Stretching from 1876 to 2143, this non-linear novel is the story of generations of a poor family, principally its women, who live on the titular shore of small, isolated, Virginia islands.

My thoughts: I first heard about The Shore when it appeared on several blogger's Baileys Prize prediction lists. The UK cover is very different, and when I saw the U.S. cover, I thought The Shore would be a family beach saga. And it is, but it's as far from WASPs as you can get. When you look closely at the house on the U.S. cover, it's clear the house is dilapidated. The novel opens in 1995, and the first chapter sets the dark tone of this novel beautifully. It's haunting. The second chapter is set in 1933, and slowly a picture of how the family we meet in 1993 came to be.

The concept of this novel is great. I squealed when I saw the table of contents. I love a novel that can be historical fiction, contemporary fiction and science fiction all in one. I love novels that stretch into an imagined future but are deeply rooted in reality. As good as the idea is, Taylor's writing is even better. This novel is just over 300 pages but has the depth of a much-longer novel. It's begging me to re-read it because I know I will spot even more connections on the second read. Even as I looked back at my highlights to write this review, I found passages from early in the novel had more depth in hindsight:
"Family stories, about his childhood and their mother's childhood and how they all came to be, and more private, half-mythic stories that they knew instinctively were not to be share; people knew vaguely what they could do, but it didn't help anyone to strew reminders about.
The story of his grandmother Medora was of both types, and they did not know how much of it was strictly true. She was a come-here, he said, and a wise woman, the mixed race daughter of a Shawnee Indian and a white land owner, who knew native herbs as well as she knew medicine." 
Favorite passage: "They need you, need someone to be better than, to point out when their own lives don't quite go as planned, to carry the communal disdain."

The verdict: I loved the stories and the fascinating characters, but what elevates this novel is Taylor's command of theme. The Shore is an entertaining read, but when the novel shifts into the future, it becomes transcendent. I read with my jaw hanging open as I realized Taylor had led me on a path I didn't even realize I was on. This novel has a strong feminist point-of-view, and Taylor infuses it organically and beautifully.Sara Taylor is 24-years-old, and I hope she keeps writing for a very long time. This novel is epic and wonderful, and it takes my breath away.

Rating: 6 out of 5 (it's that good)
Length: 320 pages
Publication date: May 26, 2015
Source: publisher

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy The Shore from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Visit Sara Taylor's website

As an affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you for helping to support my book habits that bring more content to this blog!


  1. I will admit to being kind of 'meh' on this one until the mention of the sci-fi-ish future-y parts -- now I'm in. Sounds wonderful -- I love novels that explore family saga in such an adventurous manner!

    1. I think you'd love it. The themes about reproduction in the past, present and future are so timely for us!

      Hope camping was fun:-)

  2. Wow. You've more than convinced me!

  3. Ok, this book isn't what I expected when you were talking about your latest 6 star read... I haven't heard much about this one. (That could be because I haven't been keeping up with books/publishing as much lately). But you know I highly respect your opinion so I am definitely adding it to the list and look forward to reading it! (Dealing with my infertility junk, do you think I am going to be annoyed with the themes of reproduction??)

    1. Sorry I haven't responded sooner! I'll say this vaguely: Taylor sets up different characters to have different frustrations with fertility and motherhood at different times in history and their lives. It spans the unwanted, unexpected, and the frustrations of wanting and not having. I thought it was poetic and haunting, but I know some people don't want to visit fictionalized worlds of their own troubles. I prefer to drown in them for comfort.

  4. I picked this one up from the library and I am so excited!!


Thank you for taking the time to comment. Happy reading!