Book review: The True Colour of the Sea | Robert Drewe

‘The True Colour of the Sea’ is a collection of 11 short stories by Australian writer Robert Drewe, six of which have appeared in various publications previously. Drewe has also included a new generation of the Lang family from his seminal book of short stories ‘The Body Surfers’.

Since ‘The Body Surfers’, Robert Drewe’s name has been synonymous with stories of water and the ocean. ‘The True Colour of the Sea’ contains stories which are – unsurprisingly – set by the sea in Australia, overseas and even on a cruise ship.

Along with the beauty of the watery locales, Drewe writes enough complexity into his characters that we understand their melancholies and anxieties well in the short amount of time it takes to read the few pages of each story. It is masterful writing to convey such sense of place and character nuance so pointedly in the short story form.

Characters include: A mistakenly jealous husband in a culturally confusing act of atonement, a sexually manipulative mother-in-law in 1950s Sydney, a pompous artist-adventurer abandoned to an island grave, elderly travellers enjoying the last vestiges of life purchasing poisonous end of life insurance, a couple’s disappointment with the tacky tourism and sexual exploitation in a once-fascinating Cuba, and a 50-something man facing the reality of the end of a friendship with a man he now finds abhorrent. Drewe’s characters are all relatable in some way.

However, Drewe does write from the perspective of heterosexual, white privilege and this is a little disquieting in modern day Australia. This is not a criticism of the relevance or quality of the stories, just the lack of diversity. It gives the impression that the true colour of the sea is white. Nonetheless, this latest offering from Robert Drewe is well worth the read.

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