Written by Dorche Powell
Diving into Bay of Fires, the debut novel from Poppy Gee, I was completely interested in the story of Sarah Avery, on the run from her past relationship with ex-boyfriend Jake and the murder of a young female backpacker who mysteriously washed up on shore. Unfortunately, my interest soon became disappointment not long after the story began. Poppy Gee pays little attention to the plot, the two murders of the female backpackers, she created. Instead of building suspense and infusing menace, she described fish, the landscape and how lonely everyone and everything is. Her story was disjointed, and I kept waiting for something to happen. It never did.
There just wasn’t a very good connection between characters and the storyline. It seemed as if her first intent was to reveal the mystery behind the murder but it carried on more into the land and each character’s background. Since it was Poppy Gee’s first novel, I wanted to give her a chance. My heart simply could never warm-up to her story, at least how Poppy let it unfold here. The mystery murder, itself one of the major plot points, never materialized as something worth caring about. And when you have trouble making a murder interesting there’s definitely a problem.
One thing that did impress was the detail and writing. Poppy describe how the water looked around Sarah as Hall (a journalist investing the murder) came to sit by her. “Her dark shape circled the rock pool. The water looked inviting. Shades of green shot with crystal twirled above a subtropic rock reef, an ecosystem protected by granite walls. A gap in the rock pool led to the ocean, and bubbles rose with each oceanic pulse.” Poppy Gee wanted her readers to see the life her characters lived and the environment and here she excels; I could imagine myself walking along Bay of Fires.
After researching more on Bay of Fires, I was surprised to learn it was written as the author’s thesis for her MFA in Creative Writing. She wanted to emphasize the role of women in society, so many of her characters (Sarah, Simone, Jane, Pamela, and Erica) did not conform to traditional gender roles. If I had known this before reading, I would have appreciated the characters more.
Poppy Gee has potential as a writer, but her ideas in Bay of Fire felt scattered and thrown together. Honestly, it could (and probably should) have gone through a few more revisions before being published. The elements as presented here (especially Sarah Avery’s past, her relationships with Hall, the lonely residents and the murder mystery) simply didn’t fit well together, and the ending was rushed and never felt completed.