Skip to main content

Deep Water


Deep Water

During the last two pandemic years, I’ve enjoyed curating a reading list of novels about vacations gone horribly awry, as a means of consoling myself for the trips I haven’t been able to take during that period. Now I can add Emma Bamford’s first novel, DEEP WATER, to that list.

Our vacationers are a pair of British honeymooners, Jake and Virginie, who have just cashed in all their savings and bought a used, somewhat ramshackle yacht that they will use to tour around the Indian and Pacific Oceans as long as their money holds out. Virginie, who grew up sailing and worked most recently in a maritime museum, is deeply in love with Jake, who grew up building and fixing boats with his dad. Previously married to someone who consistently controlled and belittled her, Virginie can’t believe her good fortune in finding a kind and generous man like Jake, who appears to accept her for who she is.

"The strongest parts of the book are those in which the islanders’ utopian ideals are put to the test, as well as the strength of the couple’s relationship."

After Jake and Virginie pick up their yacht in Malaysia (renaming it the Wayfinder, despite numerous warnings by locals that renaming a boat is bad luck), they plan to head first to Thailand. But they have a chance encounter with a veteran sailor who dismisses Thailand as being overcrowded and inauthentic, instead waxing rhapsodic about a tiny island that’s practically the definition of “getting away from it all.” Amarante, in the Indian Ocean, has absolutely no infrastructure or permanent population, making it the kind of untrammeled paradise the young couple has been dreaming of.

At first, Jake and Virginie are skeptical --- the self-sufficiency required both to get to Amarante and to stay alive there might be more than they want to take on for their maiden voyage --- but neither can get the visions of this tropical oasis out of their imagination. Finally, they decide to take a chance, and when they encounter the pristine island, populated by only a couple of other visitors, they are thrilled with their decision --- at least at first.

The others anchored at Amarante --- a friendly couple, and a man and his dog --- have been to the island before, and they understand more than Jake and Virginie do about its ominous history, as well as the strange barter economy agreed upon by its temporary residents. But when a wealthy older man and his beautiful young girlfriend arrive in his far more luxurious yacht, the dynamic on the island changes. The honeymooning couple’s secondhand yacht and their relationship start to show some cracks.

Bamford packs a lot into her ambitious debut, including historical context about colonialism, a subplot focused on the criminal underworld, and a largely unnecessary framing story starring a grieving Malaysian captain who comes to the aid of Jake and Virginie. The strongest parts of the book are those in which the islanders’ utopian ideals are put to the test, as well as the strength of the couple’s relationship.

From my list of vacation-gone-wrong novels, DEEP WATER would be especially interesting to pair with Amity Gaige’s SEA WIFE, whether this summer finds you heading out on vacation or being (sort of) glad you aren’t.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on June 4, 2022

Deep Water
by Emma Bamford