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Below Deck

Below Deck 1

by Sophie Hardcastle

Paperback / softback Publication Date: 03/03/2020

4/5 Rating 1 Reviews
RRP  $29.99 $24.25

Below Deck is the highly anticipated debut novel from author Sophie Hardcastle. A heartbreakingly poetic and haunting story about the vagaries of consent, about who has the space to speak and who is believed.

And then, just like that, a thought bubbles inside me. It's a beginning; a new beginning; my beginning. The beginning of the story I tell myself in order to survive. We choose to breathe, don't we?

Twenty-one-year-old Olivia hears the world in colour, but her life is mottled grey. Estranged from her parents, and living with her grandfather who is drowning in sadness, Oli faces the reality of life beyond university alone. 

When she wakes on a boat with no recollection of how she got there, she accepts the help of two strangers who change the course of her future forever. With Mac and Maggie, Oli learns to navigate a life upon open ocean and the world flowers into colours she's never seen before.

Four years later, Oli, fluent in the language of the sea, is the only woman among men on a yacht delivery from Noumea to Auckland. In the darkness below deck, she learns that at sea, no one can hear you scream.

Moving to London, Oli's life at sea is buried. When she meets Hugo, the wind changes, and her memories are dust blown into shapes. Reminding her of everything.

Below Deck is about the moments that haunt us, the moments that fan out like ripples through the deep. So that everything else, becomes everything after.

Contemporary fiction
Paperback / softback
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"Lyrical, profound, and deeply moving Sophie Hardcastle's Below Deck will confront as well as soothe, and is the most tender, hopeful battle-cry of a book."
Brooke Davis

"Hardcastle has captured the powerful words so many of us struggle to find, and I cannot imagine anyone could finish Below Deck unaffected."
Bri Lee

"Below Deck will leave you breathless. Sophie Hardcastle is a phenomenal, courageous talent."
Clementine Ford

Sophie Hardcastle

Sophie Hardcastle is an author and artist currently studying a Bachelor of Fine Arts at Sydney College of the Arts, majoring in painting. Sophie's memoir, Running like China, is published by Hachette and was released in September 2015. Her debut novel, Breathing Under Water, will be published by Hachette in July 2016.

In addition to her books, Sophie has written for various magazines, including ELLE, Harper's Bazaar and Surfing World, and has also written for theatre. Sophie is now a mental health spokesperson for Batyr. She shares her experiences with bipolar 1 disorder by speaking in schools around the country. Sophie was recently named as one of Triple j's '25 Under 25 who are nailing it!'.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating

4 / 5 (1 Ratings)
  • An interesting and thought-provoking read that doe

    by on

    “Each time I come up for breath, the hoop pines become more pronounced, their outlines sharper, their immensity more overwhelming, until I am standing in the shallows, gazing up at the towering trees. Wooded bodies stand one after another, like the mountainside is an amphitheatre for a green choir singing all kinds of unheard songs.”

    Below Deck is the third novel by Australian author, Sophie Hardcastle. Olivia Winters is an economics graduate with excellent job prospects who would have preferred to study the arts. She’s intelligent, but at twenty-one, incredibly naïve, a little aimless and has recently buried the grumpy grandfather with whom she was living in Manly, a man who had never recovered from the loss of his wife. Oli’s parents, a dictatorial father and a socialite mother, are demanding but absent and unsupportive, and her boyfriend lacks empathy and generosity.

    But when she meets Mac and then Maggie, her immediate connection to Maggie is augmented by a mutual love of art and the shared peculiarity of synaesthesia. Oli feels enveloped by love and care when she’s with Mac and Maggie, something sorely lacking in her parents’ guardianship. She clearly gets more guidance from these two virtual strangers on a sailing trip through the Coral Sea than she has had during her whole childhood.

    If the first part of the story, sea garden, and third part, desert, have beautiful prose, warmth and quirky humour, joy and sadness, and if the final part, sea ice, describes healing and life affirmation, the second part, sea monsters, is likely to make many readers feel uncomfortable, with Oli’s poor choices quickly fostering a sense of dread at her possible fate, and her method of coping with her trauma (rationalising her rape into a choice she made) is unlikely to sit well with many. Parts of sea ice also feel a bit like an environmental lecture.

    There will be times when Oli’s actions are so frustrating, the reader wants to grab and shake her. Is her weakness, her lack of self-respect, her easy devaluing of herself, explained by her mother’s example? It’s difficult to say, as the story is quite disjointed at times, with several vaguely-described years between the parts.

    Many readers may find the explicit description of sexual assaults confronting, and Oli is not an easy character with whom to connect, even before she goes into denial of what is clearly PTSD. Mac and Maggie, Will and Oli’s London friends are more endearing. Oli’s synaesthesia does make for some evocative descriptions. An interesting and thought-provoking read that doesn’t quite reach its potential.
    This unbiased review is from an uncorrected proof copy provided by Allen & Unwin.