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All the Seas of the World

by Gayla Reid

With All the Seas of the World, award-winning short-story writer Gayla Reid makes a confident and compelling, affecting and strong-minded entry into long fiction. And she does it like a champion hurdler, breezing over a multitude of thematic obstacles.

The novel’s spine is the lifelong friendship between two women, Deirdre and Bernadette, who share a childhood and convent-school education in rural Australia and remain passionately connected despite long separations in time and geography. There is nothing hokey or dubiously sentimental about this friendship, nor – even trickier to pull off – about the politics and wars and revolutions that take Deirdre and her journalist-husband around the world, while Bernadette samples a couple of husbands and a couple of countries, including Canada.

Narrator Bernadette points out that she is omitting most information about her own life and concentrating on Deirdre’s, except where their lives intersect. Certainly Deirdre has the more adventurous trajectory, from a stint as a journalist in Vietnam during the war there, to political activism in England, to a sojourn in Argentina in the years of government-sponsored executions, tortures, imprisonments, and disappearances.

If this sounds grim (and terrible things do happen to both main and peripheral characters) or overly polemical or even old-fashioned (in a silly-1960s sort of way), Reid’s characters are far too emotionally sophisticated, intellectually alert, and generally crisp-witted to fall into those traps.

In matters of human cruelty and trauma, personal or political, there is no comfortable resolution. What remains, though, is a combination of passion, compassion, and perspective. Here is Bernadette reflecting on 1970s conversations on prospects for Argentine reform: “I did not know then how dated these conversations would become, and that what would date them, in particular, was their optimism.”

That is sadly, shrewdly true, and All the Seas of the World is shot through with these tucked-in, wry, wise noticings.


Reviewer: Joan Barfoot

Publisher: Stoddart Publishing


Price: $29.95

Page Count: 310 pp

Format: Cloth

ISBN: 0-7737-3280-2

Released: Apr.

Issue Date: 2001-5

Categories: Children and YA Non-fiction, Fiction: Novels