The Painted Ocean

The Painted Ocean - Gabriel Packard

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]

There were merits to this book, for what it denounced (oppression; rape; manipulative people who drown others in words the better to confuse them; humans demeaning other humans to the point of making them look like animals). Unfortunately, I thought the story overall was too implausible, and the characters not compelling enough for me to really care.

The first half of the novel was decent enough at first, depicting Shruti's life in England as an 11-year old kid whose father was gone and whose mother was torn between her life with her daughter, and the family's honour. This is made most blatant through the Uncle Aadesh character, who wants her to go back to India and marry another man, however the price would be to put Shruti in a foster family... and leaver her there. Terrorised by the prospect of being kept away from her mother, Shruti makes bad decision upon bad decision, managing to land herself in, well, a foster family.

And I guess this is where things started to go downhill, because for the whole story, Shruti struck me as a pushover and a not so smart person, which didn't made her sympathetic nor made me root for her. Meena wasn't better, mind you: her way of ending the bullying Shruti suffered was efficient but ruthless, and her idea to teach Aadesh a lesson was just mind-boggling (what sane 12-year old girl would come up with that? Why did Shruti not reflect upon that when she was grown-up?). It didn't reflect so much the life of South-Asian people in the UK than make me wonder why I should care, and this was really too bad, because I wanted to care, and I wanted to read more about Shruti's experiences... if only they hadn't been so improbable and/or based on silly decisions on her part. I guess that's obsession for you: it makes you dumb.

More than anything, what bothered me seriously was Shruti's voice. It fitted her as a 11-year old girl, even though all the “cos” and “like” and “And I was this. And I was that. And then we did this. And then that happened.” quickly got on my nerves. However, it was definitely weird when she kept that voice as a 18/19-year old woman, and when she went through the traumatising experiences of the second half of the novel, it was... disturbing. Not in a good way: in a “see a child being raped” way. I don't particularly like reading about that. Rape is terrible enough as it is.

Those same experiences were also too far on the bizarre end of the spectrum: flying to the other side of the world, getting embroiled in such situations, people treating others like slaves, manipulative games... All those kept piling up upon each other, to the point where my suspension of disbelief was all but suspended by a thread, which broke quickly soon after that. If it had been less unbelievable, and more subtle, it would definitely have had a strong impact; but there's strong, and there's overkill. I wanted to feel for Shruti, and ended up just wondering why she couldn't see through anything, why she thought like a kid (using a stolen passport and thinking that's a good idea? Well...), why anyone would make such decisions, really. The ending was interesting; it would've been better if it hadn't been so rushed—I honestly couldn't believe how Shruti managed to get where she did, in so few pages (considering how non-savvy she was, she should have died ten times over).

I may have appreciated the story if the bizarre setting had been peopled with characters I could enjoy reading about... but it wasn't.