Book Review: On Such a Full Sea

On Such a Full Sea
Chang-Rae Lee

If we can be forgiven a small spoiler, neither the ocean nor the sea is anywhere to be found in this book, On Such a Full Sea, by Chang-Rae Lee, acclaimed for his earlier novels Native Speaker and The Surrendered. We are in the world of metaphor, and although On Such a Full Sea is certainly science fiction, it will appeal mostly to readers of literary fiction. The characters are not readily identified as good or bad. They move through this future world making choices, timidly or with daring, and we see ourselves in their uncertainty.

Most uncertain is the voice of the narrator, who is wrong or simpleminded about as often as a Greek chorus. Like a Greek chorus, he or she, we don’t know, we do trust as giving voice to the consensus view of the community. That community in the not-too-distant-but-believable future feels stiflingly conformist, but maybe a bit too familiar. The novel is about that conformist society’s reaction to a very young woman, Fan, whom they credit with acting from free will. She frightens them in the way a messiah might.

Fan is a normal girl who does normal things. She has a boyfriend, Reg, and they are goofily in love, but one day Reg disappears, and Fan, goes looking for him, instead of trusting his fate, and her love, to the authorities. Fan goes looking for her lover Reg and that simple free choice on her part is like a stone cast into the uneasily calm pool of their world.

Often the narration shifts to Fan’s point of view and we wonder how the narrator knows her reactions and her thoughts and can only suppose that we are reading Fan’s reactions as imagined by the narrator.

It is that kind of book, with layers of meaning. We wonder whether Fan will find Reg , and we wonder if the rigid class system described in the novel is so very different from our own today.

If you are looking for an interesting read, check out Chang-Rae Lee’s On Such a Full Sea.

David Blake
Fiction Department
Central Library