The Broken Wave by Matthew Ryan Davies

Reviewed by Rod McLary

It is a common trope in psychological dramas that a serious event occurs affecting the immediate lives of  those directly and indirectly involved.  Such an event also reverberates through the many years following the incident until finally it is acknowledged and resolved.  This allows for a certain tension as the narrative moves towards the inevitable denouement when the event is confronted head on for the first time.

The Broken Wave is centred on such an event – and at its heart are two twelve-year-old boys.  Tom lives in Queenscliff in Victoria where, in 1992, Andrew, his mother Cathy and stepfather Mark arrive so that Mark – an army man – can take up a training opportunity.  Tom and Drew -as he is now called – quickly become close friends as only the young can do.  Cathy is heavily pregnant when they arrive in Queenscliff and later, after the birth of their daughter Scarlett, struggles with motherhood and social isolation.  Drew attempts to provide support to his mother but his twelve-year-old efforts are insufficient and limited.  Then one day when Tom and Drew return home after school, they are confronted with an horrific scene followed by a catastrophic event of which Drew recalls only a ‘brilliant flash’.

It is now 2018 and Andrew is a struggling writer with ‘second novel syndrome’ living in Minneapolis with his wife Claire.  Tom and Andrew keep in touch by social media but they never discuss what happened that day in 1992.  Tom dies in a boating accident according to a Facebook post.  As Andrew sees the fishing lure, given to him by Tom all those years ago, ‘the memory of that day rose up, vivid and bright, as dazzling as the Australian sun’ [4].  And Andrew realises that ‘Queenscliff would never leave [him], although [he] had left it twenty-six years ago, vowing never to return’ [17].  Consequently, Andrew returns for Tom’s funeral and ultimately to finally confront the events of that day in 1992 and their impact on his life since.

But Andrew finds another unanswered question: was Tom’s death a tragic accident or was he – like Andrew – struggling with the psychological consequences of that day’s events?  CS Lewis once said ‘you can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending’.  As Andrew revisits people he knew in 1992, the beginning gradually becomes clearer and he starts to recall the catastrophic events of that fateful day – and how they shaped his future and even now resonate in the present.

The Broken Wave is a haunting narrative which touches on themes such as mental illness, the effects of social and emotional isolation, and post traumatic stress related to the Gulf War – and for the two boys, the risks inherent in not acknowledging traumatic events and their consequences.  Andrew through his psycho-somatic stomach pains clearly shows how unresolved trauma will find its own way of manifesting itself.

In his latest book, Matthew Ryan Davies has revisited some of the themes canvassed in his first novel Things We Bury.  But in this book, those themes are given an added poignancy as two young boys are at the core of the novel.  A fine book and well worth the reading.

Matthew Ryan Davies is a freelance copywriter and editor mostly for the healthcare sector.  He ghost-writes non-fiction books, edits university textbooks, and writes scripts for educational videos and documentaries.  Matthew is the author of This Thing of Darkness which was highly commended in the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards.

The Broken Wave

[2023]

By Matthew Ryan Davies

Pan Macmillan

ISBN 978 176098 793 0

$34.99; 326pp

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