Title: Watch Over Me
Author: Claire Corbett
Published: May 1st 2017
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary, Literary
Rating: 3 stars
It is the present day. The foggy northern city of Port Angelsund, gateway to the last great fossil fuel reserves beneath the Arctic Ocean, is under occupation by the soldiers of Garrison. Sylvie is a young woman just trying to survive. She works in a harbourside café with her mother and little brother, and fears for her older brother, Jory, who fled when the enemy invaded.
When Sylvie is singled out for punishment at a Garrison checkpoint, a young lieutenant rescues her from torture. Though she knows the terrible risks of collaboration, she cannot stop herself from falling in love. Watched closely by Garrison’s vast machinery of surveillance, Sylvie now discovers she is also under the protective and suspicious gaze of her lover.
Brooding over the rim of the world, Coalition pledges to free Port Angelsund: storm is coming, they say, we are on our way. When Jory returns on a terrorist mission that will throw the city into chaos, Sylvie’s loyalties are tested beyond breaking point. Her deep bond with her brother and her illicit passion for her Garrison officer are loves that cannot coexist. Whatever she does is betrayal.
In the spirit of Hiroshima Mon Amour and Suite Francaise, this sensual and heart-breaking novel brings the classic conflicts of war and occupation, devotion and treachery, up to the present minute. While the unimaginable power of modern warfare advances, Watch Over Me reminds us that the things at stake—survival, refuge and love—remain the things worth fighting for.
Prolific Australian author Tom Keneally’s cover endorsement of Watch Over Me, which is writer Claire Corbett’s second novel, was enough to convince me I really wanted to read this book. Watch Over Me was definitely a book that falls outside my usual genre preferences. This novel presents the reader with an original and perceptive take on a contemporary world ravaged by war, conflict and suppression. It combines these age old themes with a consuming romance between the two lead characters.
Sylvie is a nineteen year old pastry chef, who works at her family’s cafe. She resides in a place called Port Angelsund, which we learn a few years prior came under occupation from an army from called Garrison, due to its lucrative natural energy reserves. Now Sylvie, her family and the other citizens of Port Angelsund find themselves placed under constant surveillance through checkpoints, rationing, and drones. When Sylvie gains some unwanted attention at a routine checkpoint, a young and ambitious lieutenant named Will comes to Sylvie’s aid. Saving her from probable torture, Sylvie quickly falls in love with Will. They soon embark on a tumultuous love affair that spirals out of control. Day by day, Will becomes more passionate, possessive and protective of Sylvie. Sylvie’s loyalties are then pushed to their very limits, when her older brother returns home from a mission to help overthrow the Garrison. Sylvie comes to the heartbreaking conclusion that she cannot love both men in the world they are currently living in.
What an interesting, as well as quite disturbing scenario author Claire Corbett presents her audience with in her second novel, Watch Over Me. Current, as well as past world events, in particular war, seem to have a strong place in this novel. It is clear the author has conducted a great deal of search in the area of warfare, with a specific focus on war psychology. Corbett uses this to her advantage to inform the multi layered, as well as atmospheric narrative of Watch Over Me.
This book had an almost dystopian and futuristic feel setting wise, but I was surprised to learn in the opening that it is set in the present day. The situation in which the main character Sylvie is placed in is very plausible. I could easily see how our world could quickly change into the one Sylvie inhabits. Strong military presence, curfews, rations, drones and movement restrictions are an all too scary reality, making Corbett’s novel a topical one.
Sylvie, the main character of Watch Over Me, comes across as a strong voice. This may be due to the fact that the whole book is narrated solely from Sylvie’s point of view. We get a deep impression of what life is like for Sylvie and the citizens of Angelsund from her singular voice. There are many other characters who come in and out of this novel, giving the reader a picture of life in Angelsund. I did find this area of the book hard to get a handle on. Will, Sylvie’s love interest and the other main player in this book, was a compelling character. The relationship between Sylvie and Will is best described as complicated and sexually charged. At times, this part of the book dominated the narrative and I wasn’t entirely invested in this relationship for reasons I just can’t seem to put my finger on. However, Corbett does do a good job of conveying the emotions associated with Sylvie’s agonising decision as to whether she should draw alliances with her older brother, or lover Will. The journey we are taken on as a reader is a difficult one, fraught with tension and unexpected moments, but the ending will leave you with a glimmer of hope.
Watch Over Me would best be defined as a very modern, almost futuristic take on love, life and survival in a time of conflict. There is no doubt Watch Over Me is an ambitious novel, with strong intentions. Watch Over Me didn’t quite meet the expectations I formed going into the novel, but I can see how it would have the power to enthral a wide readership.
Watch Over Me by Claire Corbett was published in May 2017 by Allen and Unwin. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.
Learn more about the author of Watch Over Me, Claire Corbett here.
*Please note that a free copy of this book was provided to me for review purposes through Beauty and Lace. To read the original review on the Beauty and Lace website please visit here.