Tom Pellow’s father, a merchant seaman, was lost at sea a year ago when his ship went down with all hands. There was no funeral, there is no grave – only the sea. Tom decides that he’ll write messages, put them in bottles and consign them to the sea. The first message is simply informative, the next few humorous and whimsical by turn. Then, to his delighted amazement, he receives a reply – but one which is far from ordinary since it comes from the hand of a sailor who died over 200 years ago.
When the dead sailor claims to have no knowledge of his father – down in Davy Jones’ locker, Tom is at first incredulous, then angry, thinking that a cruel hoax is being perpetrated on him. He writes again and the advice he receives from the long-dead sailor gives him the strength to understand that he must battle on and rebuild his life. He casts one more bottle into the sea-this time containing a message from the heart to the father he believes to be dead. Then, the miracle begins….
This book shines with honesty: Shearer fearlessly explores grief – Tom’s and his family’s, creates a community which lives, year on year, with the knowledge that a life lived on the sea may be cut short at any time, creates characters who live on the page. He explores the hope which lives on in the face of impossible odds and he makes a 200 year dead sailor a credible, central character.
Given all these positives, it is therefore disappointing that the whereabouts of Tom’s father is covertly revealed far too early in the narrative and that the ending becomes almost too neat and certainly too coincidental.