In this installment of Page 69,
we put Iain Maloney's The Waves Burn Bright to the test!
OK, Iain, set up page 69 for us:
It's June 2013. Marcus Fraser, a survivor of the Piper Alpha disaster suffers from PTSD and is an alcoholic. He teaches part-time at the University of Aberdeen. It is Friday and he is in the pub contemplating the weekend ahead.
What is The Waves Burn Bright about?
On July 6th 1988 the oil platform Piper Alpha exploded, killing 167 men. The Waves Burn Bright tells the story of how that disaster tears apart one family. Carrie Fraser is 16 when the disaster occurs, her father, Marcus, one of the survivors. The disaster, and Marcus’s Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and consequent alcoholism drives his wife and daughter away. Now, 25 years after the tragedy, Carrie, a renowned geologist, is returning to Aberdeen to deliver a controversial paper and, perhaps, reunite with her father.
Do you think this page gives our readers an accurate sense of what The Waves Burn Bright is about? Does it align itself the book’s overall theme?
In some ways this is a good introduction to Marcus’s character. The sentence, ‘He drank’ could almost be his epigraph. Marcus was always a drinker but his decision to self-medicate with alcohol rather than seek professional help to deal with his PTSD defines nearly three decades of his life. He mentions his hip: at the height of his drinking, at his lowest point, he falls down the stairs of his local and shatters his hip. His hospital stay begins the long process of rehabilitation. Always a keen mountaineer, Marcus is reduced to skirting foothills and watching from a distance.
The Machar is a real bar in the heart of the University of Aberdeen campus which I regularly drank in as a student and still try to visit whenever I’m home. The bench he mentions at Loch Muick is also real and is dedicated to Mike Burnett, a helicopter pilot and family friend who died many years ago. Should auld acquaintance be forgot indeed.
Not present at all here is Carrie, Marcus’s daughter and the main character. She is on her way though and here Marcus is stealing himself for a potential reunion.
The sense of nostalgia I tried to capture in these paragraphs, the real comfort we all find in familiar objects, be it our favourite mug or shirt, or the way a glass feels against old scars, is very much what The Waves Burn Bright is about. The past and present exist in uneasy juxtaposition, defining themselves against each other and while habit and familiarity may be comforting, they are also dangerous and addictive. Like Stephen Dedalus, history is a nightmare from which we are trying to awake.
Postscript: I think this ‘page 69’ theme is a fantastic idea and more writers should do it. I used to buy books on this premise, opening them at a random page, reading the first sentence and deciding based entirely on that. I gave up when, one day in the second-hand bookshop on the Spittal in Aberdeen, I opened Dead Fingers Talk by William Burroughs and encountered a sentence that will never be beaten: ‘There I was in the headwaters of a baboons asshole, completely out of KY.’
THE WAVES BURN BRIGHT
campus on such a beautiful day to such a beautiful goal, the little cottages, the idiosyncratic ancient walls and modern geometrical granite buildings, just a few steps beyond the bank and in through the black door.
He still missed the smell of smoke that used to envelop old bars like this. You could fit the Machar into a railway carriage. Seats and tables along the left wall, bar along the right, toilets and dartboard at the back. His corner was free, back to the wall, cash on the counter, ‘the usual Marcus?’ from Duncan the barman, big of heart and big of gut, University Rugby Club shirt and a mug of tea in his special mug, the white one with the black handle and U N T in black, the handle making the C. Pint handed over, correctly settled, head an exact three quarters of an inch, no fucking stupid harp etched onto the top. Quality craftsmanship. Almost seemed a shame to ruin the effect. Almost. The chill of the glass, the familiar curves spooned by the scars on his palms.
Tomorrow they’d go out to Bennachie, him and Isobel. Part of the deal. She’d do the driving if he got some exercise. A decent walk, a pub lunch in Kemnay, back into town for whatever fun the evening held. They did that every weekend, a different walk but the same routine. Loch of Skene, Findhorn, Scolty sometimes, out to Braemar, Ballatar. Some proper hills, not that he could climb them, not with his hip, but the view was enough. Lochnagar. Loch Muick. He liked Loch Muick best. There was a bench there dedicated to a good friend from his oil days, a helicopter pilot. He liked to sit on the bench and have a tot from the flask. Remember Mike, toast him.
Should auld acquaintance be forgot.
Iain Maloney was born in Aberdeen and now lives in Japan where he teaches English and writes about travel, literature, and music. He studied English at the University of Aberdeen, has a Masters in Creative Writing from the University of Glasgow, and, as a writer of fiction, non-fiction and poetry, has been published in journals and anthologies around the world. In 2013 he was shortlisted for the Dundee International Book Prize. Following the success of his first novel First Time Solo, which was shortlisted for the Guardian's Not the Booker Prize, his second novel Silma Hill was published in 2015, followed by The Waves Burn Bright in 2016.