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BOOK REVIEW: Annie Stanley, All At Sea by Sue Teddern

| 22 July 2021 | Reply

BOOK REVIEW: Annie Stanley, All At Sea by Sue Teddern

Mantle | Pan Macmillan
July 2021
Paperback $32.99
Reviewed by Steph O’Connell

Fiction / General Fiction

70% Rocking

Before we leave, I go to the loo. Before I go to the loo, I go to the dresser, take the urn of Dad’s ashes and cram it into my Fjällräven backpack which I left in the hall. The zip won’t close so I cover the urn with my scarf.
Dad isn’t being scattered in the Tyrol.
End of.

Thirty-seven-year-old Annie Stanley is at a bit of a loss after falling into a rut that she just can’t gather the energy to find her way out of. 

She quit her job as a geography teacher, she ended a relationship that might have helped save her from her rut, and now she spends her days hiding from her friends and family at daytime cinema sessions, or working a comfortable groove into that one spot on the couch.

Then suddenly her father is gone, she and her sister are orphans, and her father’s girlfriend has plans to scatter his ashes at a place wholly un-special to Annie and her sister.

Annie never was able to see eye-to-eye with Bev. Some part of Annie has always blamed her not-quite stepmother for taking her mother’s place in her father’s life, helping him to learn to live again, and move on after the death of her mother. 

So, rather than having her father’s ashes scattered at a place that doesn’t mean anything to their family, by a woman she feels has less right to grieve the sudden loss than Annie and her sister do, Annie steals the ashes and takes them on a tour of her father’s beloved shipping forecast areas to find an appropriately special place to scatter him, and hopefully come to terms with the fact that he is gone from her life for good.



The ride-along with Annie presented some interesting parallels for this thirty-something reviewer who has recently had to come to terms with:

  • Things she’s done and is not proud of
  • The truth of who really cares for her
  • The understanding that life is often “not fair”
  • The realisation that just because someone is supposed to be close to you, doesn’t mean they’re good for you

At the start of the book, Annie does give off the no-hoper vibes, but if you look beneath that you will see that what she is really struggling with is the weight of the imagined “life by thirty-five”, knowing you haven’t hit those goals, and then just not being able to figure out where to start to pick yourself back up by your bootstraps. 

When her father dies and she is pushed by a sudden rush of urgency to take the ashes and get out of of town, readers who have had some self-exploration will be right there with her, and maybe readers who are yet to come to these realisations will start to understand and prepare for what lies ahead. 

The loss of urgency in Annie’s journey about two thirds through the book was replicated in this reader’s loss of urgency to keep reading to find out what happens next, but with a regathering of strength, diving back in and seeing where it all ended up was rather therapeutic. I still can’t work out whether that loss of steam in the reader is a criticism, or evidence of writing done well.

This is a hard book to categorise. It’s at once a light and easy read – filled with wry, sarcastic humour – and an exploration of some heavier topics and self-discovery, without getting bogged down and leaving the reader depressed. An adventure both into the future – after the loss of a parent, and the past – re-examining the things we did when we were younger, maybe not in our finest of hours. 

It’s a story about our first judgements of people, and how we might discover what lies underneath and actually come to value them… when we’re forced to spend longer with them than we would have originally liked. 

It’s about finding family and friends in the most unlikely of places, and not letting the fact that you have baggage stop you from living your best life. After all, who among us can honestly say they’ve lived through thirty years or more and not picked up some baggage along the way?


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