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House of Anansi Press

The Last Wave

Written by Gillian Best

Published August 26, 2017 | ISBN 9781487002930
FICTION / Literary

Cover of The Last Wave

Regular price $22.95 CAD

304 pages | 8 in × 5.25 in
Print Format

Also Available as an Ebook

About this book

The Last Wave

Gillian Best

Reader's Guide ↓

Gillian Best, winner of the Bronwen Wallace Award for Short Fiction, weaves a striking literary debut centred on one woman’s relationship to the sea in this sweeping intergenerational family saga.

A beautifully rendered family drama set in Dover, England, between the 1940s and the present day, The Last Wave follows the life of Martha, a woman who has swum the English Channel ten times, and the complex relationships she has with her husband, her children, and her close friends. The one constant in Martha’s life is the sea, from her first accidental baptism to her final crossing of the channel. The sea is an escape from her responsibilities as a wife and a mother; it consoles her when she is diagnosed with cancer; and it comforts her when her husband’s mind begins to unravel.

An intergenerational saga spanning six decades, The Last Wave is a wholly authentic portrait of a family buffeted by illness, intolerance, anger, failure, and regret. Gillian Best is a mature, accomplished, and compelling new voice in fiction.


“Martha!” I heard my father call from the foot of the stairs. “Put your shoes on and grab a jumper, love.”

I looked out my bedroom window across the rooftops that stretched out towards the flash of the sea on the horizon. The sky was clear and though it wasn’t the bright blue of picture postcards, it seemed like the day was warm enough to go without a jumper which stood every chance of being lost or forgotten, but I did as I was told, taking my least favourite cardigan — mint green with a Peter Pan collar that I despised because it looked like a lime sherbet sweet — and hoping that the outing might provide a believable excuse for me to be rid of it. Though, if having to carry around a cardigan were the price of the excursion, I would happily pay it. Invitations like this did not come around often and if I behaved myself the chance of a second invitation seemed good. Fishing held no interest to me, but the prospect of leaving the confines of our house, garden and road was thrilling. Such escapes were few and far between, even now, a year after the war had ended.

My father stood by the door with his fishing line and a metal lunchbox that I knew contained the hooks and worms he would need my help with. I presented myself to him: feet together, back straight, saluting. It was a habit I had developed when he had come back from the fighting and I had hoped it would convince him that I was respectful and knowledgeable enough to hear about his adventures in France, especially the story that would explain how he had lost his right arm. It didn’t work, but it was one of the few things that could make his face soften.

“You carry the tackle,” he said, as he stepped out of the way so I could open the door for him.

I turned the handle and stepped aside. He walked past me, not stopping to make sure I had closed the door properly which made it perfectly clear to me that he and I were not going fishing together, but rather that I was an interloper and would have to pull my own weight and do my best to keep up.

“There is to be no talking,” my father said, when I had caught up to him.

I nodded in agreement. This was serious business.

“You’re to put one worm on each hook. No more, no less.”

I nodded.

“Take care not to drop the worm. I don’t want to be surrounded by dead worm bodies the rest of the afternoon.”

I kept nodding my head.

“And you’re not to jump and dance around. Not like last time.”

Last time I had not been at my best. I had been listening to the radio quite intensely the week before and worked out an elaborate dance I had insisted on demonstrating for my father and his friends. My father was not impressed, but it hadn’t mattered. I was captivated by the sound of my feet on the wooden slats of the pier, mixed with the echo from the waves washing up on shore and that had been more than enough excitement to fill my mind to near bursting, leaving little room for his lecture on proper behaviour.

“Keep out of the way,” he said. “And be quiet.”

This last instruction was the most important.

About the Author

Gillian Best

GILLIAN BEST is a writer, swimmer, and seaside enthusiast. She won the Bronwen Wallace Award for Short Fiction and was a finalist for the Bridport Prize International Creative Writing Competition and Wasafiri’s New Writing Prize. She was also longlisted for the WriteIdea Short Story Prize. She has studied at York University, University College Falmouth, and the University of Glasgow. Originally from Waterloo, Canada, she now lives in Bristol, U.K.

Awards and Praise

“Those who liked The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry will enjoy Gillian Best’s The Last Wave for its quiet, intense examination of a woman fleeing British familial agony for the sea’s thrilling embrace.” — Kathleen Winter, bestselling author of Annabel

“[The Last Wave is] literary and lucid, sketching out a compelling character through six decades worth of angst and illness.” — Toronto Life

“The novel is an ambitious undertaking for a first book, but Best is more than equal to the challenge. Martha is a complicated, relatable, fascinating character, and her swimming both evokes beautiful imagery and weaves a sophisticated, thematic line through the many years covered in the story.” — Open Book

“The characters in The Last Wave are layered, imperfect and real. Each is trapped by the confines of family life and yet by realizing enormous, seemingly impossible dreams, they ultimately set themselves free. It’s a brilliant illustration of how family relationships change and adapt in different stages of our lives — in childhood and parenthood, and through illness, failure, and success. Scenic and true-to-life, The Last Wave will inspire readers right up to the last page.” — Emily Urquhart, author of Beyond the Pale

“The Last Wave, like the sea that holds Martha in its grip, is both gently stirring and tumultuous, a harsh yet alluring voyage through the decades of a woman’s life.” — Foreword Reviews

“Thoroughly enjoyable.” — CBC Books

“In The Last Wave, Gillian Best shows us that in life, as in swimming the channel, we aren’t defined by one decision, but rather the decisions we must make over and over again with each stroke, each moment — who we want to be, how we want to be. The Last Wave is an elegant meditation on commitment and the many forms of love.” — Tanis Rideout, author of Above All Things

“Gillian Best makes a literary splash with her debut novel, The Last Wave… . her entirely convincing portrayal of the Roberts family and their many undercurrents show that she’s just beginning her journey as a fiction writer.” — Winnipeg Free Press

“As in the sea so in life, we are something submerged and fight to rise, sometimes carried and lifted by others to less shifting ground. In this deftly woven and haunting debut novel, Gillian Best brings us, in many voices an across and through time, those who are submerged and carried, who fight and rise.” — Tania Hershman, author of Some of Us Glow More than Others and My Mother Was an Upright Piano

“A rich portrait of one woman, her family and the undercurrents of life.” — Hello Canada