Floundering is a quick read but a powerful one. Although this is author Romy Ash’s first novel, it isn’t by any means her first foray into published fiction. She is a regular writer for the Big Issue (both fiction and non fiction pieces) as well as several other publications.
It is difficult to find books that are successfully written in quite a young voice but that are written for adults. Ash’s use of language not only sits perfectly at the age of the book’s young narrator, it gives him a true Australian identity without becoming naff or stereotyped.
Romy Ash is wonderfully understated, every word is worth at least ten more and creates a wonderfully rounded picture. From the title “Floundering” which aptly describes the two young boys cast adrift amidst a foreign outback landscape.
Although Jordy is slightly younger than the young narrator Tom, it is clear that he is out of his depth. Slightly more jaded and suspicious of their flighty mother Loretta from the moment she sweeps back into their lives, a flurry of excitement and promises, his mistrust makes it clear to the reader that her impetuous behaviour and excited offerings mask past betrayal and hurt.
Tom is young enough that he is initially swept up with the idea of a family roadtrip. Again, his language makes the character, he is perfectly natural and his young Australian voice is so evocative. Sunburn, sand, pies and shotgun seating arrangements are some of the few childhood memories that Ash has captured so succinctly.
Floundering is about things unsaid. Ash pushes her story just far enough like a watercolour, the reach of the words extends beyond the immediate images on the page. Jordy’s reaction is indicative of our expectations of Loretta, a mother who has clearly abandoned her children once, before storming back into their lives and rushing them away from the shaky normalcy that they have created with their grandparents. The counterbalance to this is the hope that we see in Tom, and we want along with him for things to turn out ok just this once.
The water image permeates the title deeper into the novel, as Tom and Jordy are pushed further and further out of their depth, as Loretta drifts away. It is in the setting, the seawater edging the beach where they end up, and perhaps most importantly in the thirst they have, both for actual water, and a more spiritual thirst for love, family and a home.
It is unsurprising that only weeks after its release, Floundering is already the recipient of many favourable reviews and publicity. Romy Ash sits comfortably alongside peers Tony Birch and Anna Krien as she writes about the contemporary Australian experience, and our uneasy truce with our landscape and our society.