After struggling to finish Beautiful World, Where Are You, I definitely needed something to get me back in the reading spirit. So, I guess a book that promised something pretty distressing wasn’t the most likely choice but I felt like this would be a good tonic to Sally Rooney’s latest dense tome. Considering I got through it in a couple of days means that I was correct in my assessment. I wasn’t sure what to expect from Sunset but I’m glad that I finally got round to reading it. I was definitely fooled by the colourful cover. I don’t know what it is but I never expect pink books to be heavy-duty. I thought they were meant to be light and fluffy. This was anything but.
When I first picked up Jesse Cave’s debut novel, I was sure that I wasn’t going to enjoy it. There was just something so inelegant about the writing. There are so many repeated words in consecutive sentences and it lacked that lyrical flow that great writing has. It bugged me that there were things that could easily have been rectified with a bit more editing. However, despite these issues, I was captivated by the story and the characters. So, I put my misgivings aside and carried on. Boy, am I glad that I did. This is one of those novels that is both a pleasure to read but also really devastating. It’s a book that will stick with you long after you’ve finished it.
This book is a great portrayal of a close sibling relationship and the absolute heartbreak that would occur if it were destroyed. It was inspired by Jessie Cave’s own sister and a response to the death of her brother. You can feel the raw emotion that sits below the surface and it’s impossible not to be affected by it. The story revolves around 27-year-old Ruth as she tries to come to terms with her older sister, Hannah’s, death. Every year, the girls would go on holiday together. This time, something terrible happens and Ruth’s world is torn apart. As she struggles to keep herself together, Ruth finds herself making questionable decisions as she starts to discover things about her sister that she never knew. Will she be able to face her grief and start living her life again?
It’s not as if you need siblings to be able to understand the emotional aspects of this book but it’s bound to hit a little differently. You can feel Cave’s own loss within the pages and a real sense of pain runs throughout the story. The timeline is a little jumbled, so we initially meet Ruth after she’s been grieving for Hannah for a few months. As the novel progresses, we see her in the days after the accident and watch her try to come to terms with her loss. It’s a haunting story that will leave you wanting to reach out to all of your loved ones.
Based on the cover, Sunset looks like one of those fun and carefree Summer reads that you can relax with on a beach. Yet, it’s actually a deep and heartbreaking tale that deals with mental health and self-destruction. It’s not an easy subject matter but the book is actually a really effortless read. There’s something about the way that Cave writes that makes this topic so easy to digest. Even as you don’t want to get any deeper into this young woman’s grief, you can’t help but read on. That’s the power of good characterisation and an engaging narrative. The fact that she also managed to bring a certain amount of wit and flippancy to the subject is also to her testament.
Sunset was a much better book than I expected when I picked it up and I’m so glad that I read it. I think that Jessie Cave has done a wonderful job in her debut and I look forward to seeing what she comes up with next. It’s not the most sophisticated writing that you’ll ever read and there are things that I would have changed about it. However, if you love a character-driven novel about a flawed protagonist, it’s a book that should be picked up. Ruth makes plenty of mistakes throughout the book and you’ll be screaming at her from time to time. However, this just adds to the realism of the book. It’s quite brilliant and a good one to pick up if you’re in a reading slump. Provided you’re able to deal with the emotional gravity of it all.