CHRISTINE Dibley's debut novel, To The Sea, is an eloquent and whimsical tale spanning several generations and countries.
In the present day, 17-year-old Zoe Kennett has disappeared from her family's Tasmanian beach house. The teenager is a strong swimmer and is assumed to have gone snorkelling, but never returns.
Young and ambitious Detective Inspector Tony Vincent responds to the family's missing person's report but finds himself bewildered by the off-hand attitude of Zoe's much-older siblings and her parents.
More specifically, although her mother Eva claims not to know where Zoe's gone, she's certain she will return - at some point - when she's able.
Dibley, through Eva's ancestry takes us into the world of Irish folklore, blending mythical tales with unrequited love and broken promises. Through these stories, Dibley adds additional complexity to the mystery of Zoe's disappearance and moves the plot from something macabre to the mystical.
DI Vincent is forced to consider how much of Eva's tale he believes; and readers have the chance to ponder how our beliefs, and the stories we're told, affect our own mental health.
Originally from outback New South Wales, Dibley has lived in Tasmania for more than 30 years and the release of this debut novel comes four years after the former human services CEO left the health industry to pursue writing.
Her writing process, she says, starts with an idea she can't help but pursue: "A kernel of a story lodges itself inside my brain and I start thinking about how it might work and what will happen to the people caught up in the story. It gets jumbled and chaotic and I need to sit down and sort it out.”
And although we're mostly offered sympathetic characters, some of Eva's family are more complicated.
Both the writer and the reader need to care about the characters: what is happening to them and the decisions they make and the consequences of those decisions.
Dibley's working on new manuscripts, suggesting she'll soon focus on the one she finds most fascinating. In the meantime however, she's promoting her debut novel, which will undoubtedly appeal to lovers of whimsy and those enchanted by tales of Irish folklore.
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