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Good Reads Review: In Amber's Wake by Christine Leunens

Her first novel in nine years, Christine Leunens' In Amber's Wake sees the author dabbling into a tumultuous time in New Zealand history, during the bombing of the Rainbow Warrior, the controversial Springbok tour in the time of apartheid, and nuclear testing in the Pacific.

It was a time of clashing moralities, anger at the state of the world at large, and a furious rebellion between the emerging generation and the post-WWII generations. It was a time when notions right and wrong came into aggressive conflict, motivations came into question, and the effects of the choices made created ripples we still feel today. And, in appropriate fashion, Leunens covers it all in this tragic, brave story about a crazy little thing called love.

The book follows the character Ethan, a film student, and his unrequited love for his long time friend Amber, an environmental activist. However, when Amber chooses to marry a widower two decades her senior named Stuart Reeds, the stage is set for a conflict between all three, creating ripples that none of them could have predicted.

I feel like this is a criminally simplistic way of summarising this fascinating story, one which sees Leunens' delve into the complicated ways humans do whatever it takes to achieve happiness. The story takes a little while to get going as we are introduced to Ethan as a narrator and the players in this story. Occasionally quite unlikable and pining in the beginning, Ethan however develops into a mature and complex narrator, desperately trying to right his mistakes of the past. Leunens isn't sugar-coating characters here: these are people with many flaws.

The titular character is also the light of the whole story. Amber is a beautifully realised and heart-breaking character, an epitome of the conflicted times in New Zealand, yet also ultimately timeless.

Unlike the splashings of dark humour we've often seen in her previous books, Leunens plays it straight, and this feels like an intensely more personal story. She still isn't one to shy away from intense subject matter, and in it's final pages the story evolves into an intense family drama, which a gut-punch of a twist I didn't see coming.

In Amber's Wake is not an easy read, but it is an intensely rewarding one for those who love multi-layered characters. To hear it is being adapted for film seems eerily appropriate: this is a story with a lot to say, and no doubt will captivate many readers who will come across it.



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