Saturday, January 12, 2008

'The Highest Tide' by Jim Lynch

Although the The Highest Tide is not strictly a medically themed book, I can't resist putting in a good word for it. I think it will interest anyone fascinated by biology. The story is narrated by 13-year-old Miles, a beachcomber extraordinaire and walking encyclopaedia on marine biology. In a less deft hands, Miles would come across as an insufferable smart alec, but Lynch gives him just the right amount of self-depreciation to win you over.

Miles starts discovering creatures that do not normally belong in Pugit Sound, prompting a media invasion. When he's not finding giant squid, prehistoric fish and washed-up Japanese street signs, Miles is saving lives -- he rescues his unlikely friend Phellps who gets stuck on the mudflats, and gives a labrador dog the kiss of life. His best friend is an ageing psychic Florence, who suffers from cortical basal ganglion degeneration. The girl-next-door, with whom Miles is besotted, has bipolar disorder. Neither of these conditions is dealt with in any depth, but the practical implications of both and the impact they have on people around them is explored with finesse.

Miles reveres Rachel Carson (her book The Sea Around Us gets a well deserved raised profile here), and there is a definite eco subtext, although this is more hammerhead than sledgehammer. The Highest Tide is reminiscent of Gerald Durrell's My Family and Other Animals and of one of my all-time favourite, John Steinbeck's Cannery Row. The descriptions of sea life are lyrical, the characters as vivid as the sea stars that Miles finds. I also like that the book is sciency but not at the expense of a touch of magic.

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