Book Review | My Side Of The Ocean by Ron Irwin

Thank you to Pan MacMillan South Africa for providing me with a free copy in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

SPOILER WARNING: This review may contain spoilers!
FormatTrade Paperback
Pages253 pages
PublishedFebruary 1, 2023 by Pan Macmillan South Africa
GenreAdult, Fiction, Contemporary
Book SeriesStandalone
Content WarningTrauma, shark attack, fear, adultery

Accomplished American artist Stella Wright’s beachside home in Cape Town is perched on the edge of land and sea, safety and vulnerability, the domestic and the wild. When Stella takes an afternoon swim, she is unprepared for the drama that unfolds. She and a nearby surfer are tracked by a giant great white shark that swims close enough so she can look it in the eye, leaving the two of them deeply traumatised.

The surfer – Ben – is a waterman who paints trawlers for a living. There is an almost instant attraction between them, but Stella is married to wealthy American financier Jack Barlow, and she and her husband are preparing to leave the country. Stella and Ben begin a passionate affair. The two of them must face their fear of the water; Stella because beaches and oceans form the basis of her art, Ben because surfing is his passion. Into this situation Jack returns from overseas to tie up their affairs and bring Stella back to New York.

Stella must make a choice between the man who has reawakened her original passion for art, and the man who can give her everything else the world has to offer.

My Side of the Ocean is a novel of great empathy and insight, exploring essential questions about what it means to live, and love, when the secure foundations of a life have been ripped away.

“‘Oh! Always, many.’ He had an inscrutable politeness about him, and this kind of obtuse questioning, for him might be considered rude. I was sensitive to his privacy. His space. This country was still healing from its oppressive past – would always be healing – so we spoke to each other with exaggerated friendliness, an ever-present formaility.”

Ron Irwin

Now here is another book that surprised me even though it is way out of my comfort zone. My Side of The Ocean is a novel about healing and overcoming your fears, it’s a novel about finding yourself again and the need to be one’s true self.

  • The Trauma: When something terrible is happening to you and you are literally staring death in the face, your entire entire world shatters in a matter of moments. Fear is everything! The hardest part is having to break through that fear enough to be able to rational enough to let self-preservation take over, at the very least. The opening chapters of the book describe this so perfectly that I was gasping for breath after.
  • The Fear: Having nearly drowned as a young teenager, at a beach we’ve visited all our lives, I have been irrationally afraid of all large bodies of water ever since; I’ll go to the beach if I have to, but I’ll stay far away from the water. The author does an amazing job of carrying Stella’s fears over into the rest of her life and how it affects even her day-to-day routines.
  • The Characters: Stella was so relatable; like many people, her life has reached a kind of stalemate and she feels stuck in a rut. She is someone with a successful job and marriage with her art now being almost like a hobby; Jack, Stella’s husband, a typical American businessman in the country for his Hedge Fund, just wants to tie up loose ends and go back to New York; Ben, the surfer who suffered the trauma with Stella, is aloof and mysterious, but he fell a little flat for me.
  • The Setting: Cape Town is simply gorgeous; with a beautiful coastline and evergreen flora the Mother City will take your breath away. Even though I am not personally intimate with the area the author has done an amazing job bringing the atmosphere to life.
  • The Accuracy: This story takes place during the drought we were experiencing a few years ago (before the Corona Virus outbreak) and Irwin accurately describes the restrictions we faced and how some people were doing their part (and more) while others, like Jack, couldn’t have been bothered.

Also, a touch which I thoroughly enjoyed, this book starts each chapter with a specimen of Stella’s artwork (done by Ayanda Phasha) and a fact about sharks and how they inhabit our waters; very nice.

Happy reading!


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