Author: Penelope Janu
In At The Deep End is the debut novel of Australian Penelope Janu, who we recently interviewed as part of the blog tour for the release.
The story is a fantastic mix of humour, tension, romance and environmental issues and the bulk of it is set on the gorgeous beaches of Sydney.
Harriet Scott is a geography teacher, member of The Scott Foundation and passionate environmentalist. We meet her on the deck of the foundation’s ship The Watch, which is sinking in the waters off Antarctica. She is rescued by Commander Per Amundsen and we discover that she can’t swim. It is understandable that Commander Amundsen is less than impressed with this information because it certainly does seem very irresponsible to be in the middle of the ocean when you can’t swim and are not wearing a life jacket. Of course it isn’t as simple as that and as we get to know Harriet better we come to understand why she can’t swim.
The only child of famous adventurers Harriet is fiercely independent and has had an unconventional upbringing and education. She is a complex and fascinating character with more than her fair share of baggage. Losing her mum in a car accident at 14, and then her father at 18, has left her independent but deeply scarred. She is passionate about the work the foundation her father set up does and is happily in the public eye, as long as the media understands that her private life is off limits; not that she is left with much time for a private life after her commitments at school, her commitments with the foundation and the time she spends with old family friend Drew.
Commander Per Amundsen is an officer with the Norwegian navy as well as an environmental scientist, he is in the area conducting a scientific study which is interrupted by the mayday call of The Watch. Unhappy with the premature end to his study the Commander starts proceedings against Harriet to assist him in getting a new ship to continue his study, beginning with mediation. The Commander is an enigmatic character with secrets of his own and he’s quite protective of them.
It seems that both Harriet and Per want the same thing, a new ship to continue their important environmental work but the only way they can achieve this is by working together; which is not going to be an easy task if the sparks that fly between them are anything to go by. There are sparks of lust and then there’s sparks of antagonism and it’s often hard to tell which are which with these two.
The mystery of Harriet’s fear of water, what went wrong on The Watch and the Commander’s secrets all unfold slowly throughout the story. Harriet is determined to take part in the expeditions on the new ship but the Commander won’t even allow that to be considered unless Harriet learns to swim and I found that process fascinating to be involved in.
The environment is a large factor in the story and it isn’t by chance that our leads are Scott and Amundsen, they are both descended from the explorers Scott and Amundsen who competed to reach the South Pole first early in the 20th Century. This is a fantastic element to highlight to help with fundraising and to draw comparisons between current events (and explorers) and their ancestors.
Scattered throughout the narrative are blog posts that Harriet writes for The Scott Foundation website which talk about the original explorers and help to fuel the banter between Harriet and the Commander.
In At The Deep End is captivating and engaging, the characterisations are complex and detailed resulting in characters who are deeply flawed but fascinating. It isn’t just Harriet and Per either, the cast of supporting characters are also interesting and varied.
I loved this book and it was the perfect read to follow on from a couple that hit a little close to home. I look forward to seeing if we will find out more about Harriet and Per in Janu’s next book which will feature Per’s twin brother.
In At The Deep End is book #4 for the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge 2017.