I don’t know how I missed this book when it came out in 2005. Probably mired down by small children. It does have ‘national bestseller’ emblazoned on its cover and I can understand why.
About a week ago, I wrote a long review on it to post on my blog and somehow it disappeared. I don’t know if I’m going to be able to do it justice in the same way; it’s a hot Sunday afternoon and I’m trying not to fall asleep.
Much of the book is set on a tidal mudflat, called the Puget Sound. I had never heard of that before and first of all thought it was an imaginary place, but it’s not. It’s on the east coast of America, nearish Seattle. The main character is a 13-year-old boy called Miles O’Malley who is the most delightfully ‘nerdy’ insomniac. Miles can speed-read, is passionate about the Sound and all the estuarine life within it, and in love with his 18-year-old neighbour who sometimes babysits him. He has benignly neglectful parents who are too involved in their own quarrels to really notice that their child escapes from home in the middle of the night and scours the mudflats for marine wonders.
The sea creatures all seem to have wonderfully magic names, like ‘nudibranchs’, ‘soft bone enigmas’ and ‘purple shore crabs’. But, one night, while discovering a myriad of wonders like these, Miles finds one the rarest wonders of all, a giant squid. The scientific attention he receives, as well as the media focus, results in Miles being regarded in an almost cultish light, a boy with whom nature communicates.
During the summer, Miles carries on scouring the flats, making money by selling many of his finds to interested aquariums and collectors, while being helped by his thoroughly good-looking, but not particularly smart, friend Phelps. As the media continue hounding him and he learns (sometimes in not particularly wise ways) to handle them, so he goes through the painful process of growing up and becoming a teenager.
I loved this book; I know I am immersed in a book when I can ‘see’ it through my third eye on the inside of my forehead, like a movie. (In fact, I think this would make a great film.) I would like to meet Miles – I can imagine having sincere conversations with him that would result in him teaching me more about marine life than I could ever hope to know. At the same time, I can imagine falling about laughing with him over a stupid toilet joke.
‘The Highest Tide’ was Jim Lynch’s first novel. He has since written ‘Border Songs’, and was one of the six finalists for the American Booksellers’ Best Novelist Award in 2009. I thought he had also written another one called ‘Grensesang’ until I discovered that is ‘Border Songs’ in Norwegian. I wouldn’t mind a mistake like that if I had written a book.