Floundering is a first-time novel by Romy Ash. It’s the story of two boys who are reclaimed by their dysfunctional mother after a year of living happily with their grandparents, and taken on a mysterious and foreboding road trip.
The novel starts strongly and incorporates some beautifully descriptive writing which evokes a clear sense of the never-ending road trip, stop offs in dodgy servos where the air smelt of “petrol and hot chips”, driving through tiny country towns in the dead of night where “the town is dark except for squares of blue television light in house windows”. The boredom of a long journey encapsulated by a kid in the back seat “I rest my head against the glass and it vibrates my brain”.
The characterisation of the two boys captures the essence of an Aussie childhood. Twisties and Bubble O’ Bill, board shorts and beach towels, fights over the front seat, nobody wanting to share. The story is told from the point-of-view of the youngest child and we clearly feel his tug-of-war of emotion over loving a mother who, it becomes increasingly obvious, isn’t able to care for her children.
While reading the novel it paints a strong visual picture and you can easily see it transferring to film.
The plot of Floundering proves a little weak. Once the family sets up camp in a caravan park the novel falls into a somewhat stereotypical storyline.
There were also opportunities to further develop the character of the mother, Loretta, which weren’t taken. It would have been nice to have seen a little more of her motivations. The scene which gives the book its title, when she takes the boys searching for flounder, is the one chance for us to gain some insight into both her personality and the reasons behind why she has abducted her boys, it is a strong and powerful scene.
Overall, I enjoyed the opening half of Floundering enormously, but became a little frustrated with the plot development in the second half. However, I would be eager to read whatever Romy Ash produces for a second novel because she is a talented writer.