Yesterday was the perfect sort of day for reading. Autumn in Sydney has brought with it later sunrises, a cold bite in the water that leaves my skin covered in gooseflesh after an early morning swim, and lower, looming clouds heavy with rain. And while I miss the balmy days of summer, Saturday’s incessant rain and grey skies meant a day of guilt-free indoor reading was on the cards.
At a recent Bondi Literary Salon, I asked everyone for recommendations of books that had made them cry; and someone suggested All At Sea by Decca Aitkenhead. I’m not entirely sure why I have such an inclination to read sad books, but for some reason I do, (case in point being that A Little Life is my all-time favourite book) and so when it came to choosing what to read during yesterday’s storm, it was an easy decision to make.
All At Sea is the memoir of journalist Decca Aitkenhead, told in the aftermath of the tragic drowning of her partner, Tony Wilkinson, while holidaying in Jamaica with their two sons. An unlikely pairing – Decca, for, all intents and purposes a middle-class writer; Tony a former drug dealer and crack addict – their love story was the type that should never have made sense; but for some reason just did.
Aitkenhead writes with gritty honesty about their relationship, and the failings and flaws of both parties, both leading up to and in the wake of Tony’s death and is open about its effects on her two young sons while picking up the pieces of her own life and getting on her feet financially. She too flashes back to the death of her own mother, that happened just a week before her tenth birthday; and explores how the way in which she was taught to deal with her passing, has influenced and shaped her as a person.
Nine months after Tony’s death, Aitkenhead returns to the spot on Treasure Beach where Tony died – and finds that, unlike in the UK, where people are often scared to broach the subject, here everyone talks about Tony’s death which helps aid the healing process and brings a return to the joyfulness of life. “Because death really is a part of life here. The presumption of longevity is a first-world luxury no one in Treasure Beach takes for granted; everyone is bereaved, one way or another, and at last I am no longer the tragic curiosity.”
I loved All At Sea – while it’s undeniably a deeply devastating tale, it too is an ode an incredible man, a love letter to Treasure Beach, and a poignant look at the aftermath of a life-altering loss.
About All At Sea
‘The thing to remember about this story is that every word is true. If I never told it to a soul, and this book did not exist, it would not cease to be true. I don’t mind at all if you forget this. The important thing is that I don’t.’
On a hot still morning on a beautiful beach in Jamaica, Decca Aitkenhead’s life changed for ever.
Her four-year-old boy was paddling peacefully at the water’s edge when a wave pulled him out to sea. Her partner, Tony, swam out and saved their son’s life – then drowned before her eyes.
When Decca and Tony first met a decade earlier, they became the most improbable couple in London. She was an award-winning Guardian journalist, famous for interviewing leading politicians. He was a dreadlocked criminal with a history of drug-dealing and violence. No one thought the romance would last, but it did. Until the tide swept Tony away, plunging Decca into the dark chasm of random tragedy.
Exploring race and redemption, privilege and prejudice, ALL AT SEA is a remarkable story of love and loss, of how one couple changed each other’s lives and of what a sudden death can do to the people who survive.
About Decca Aitkenhead
Decca Aitkenhead is an award-winning journalist who conducts interviews with leading figures in public life for the Guardian. She lives in rural Kent with her two young sons.
The scene belonged to a disaster movie, not a family holiday is a stunning, but sad read, and you can read an extract of All At Sea here. Finally, I loved Loss, Heartbreak, and Living on in the Aftermath.