Buried in the mists of my memory is a book review that described some books as being good, others brilliant, and just a few that are ‘Aha!’ books. This is one of those. It is profoundly moving and plumbs the depths of human emotions. Its span is so great that it is difficult in a few words to catch what it covers.
I was mesmerised by the lyricism of some of Lynton’s text. Try a few samples. Of a sea anemone’s mouth: ‘rippling shades of blue that flow to rich red and then delicate pink around the cavity lips’, or when She Down There ‘rests on a reef that never sleeps and listens to the gentle splattering of rain on the silver ceiling above’ and ‘the sound of a million pebbles … the gentle conkle-conkle on the shore infuses her everlasting sigh’.
Lynton has a visceral feel for the ocean and its denizens. He addresses big issues of racialism, nationalism, politics, and the mores and lots of people trapped in poverty, lured into poaching as a means of survival. All are tackled in a gentle and highly personal way, that challenges the reader to think, without being jarring, and to contemplate the world through the eyes of the less fortunate. I loved the subtle humour (with a message) on the opening page, where a quote from Jean-Albert Foëx ‘underwater man … from his intercourse with the sea will receive … a certain wisdom, a different way of thinking’ is followed by Claire Lutrísque’s pithy ‘Yeah, underwater woman too’.
Inextricably entwined throughout the book are personal experiences that plumb the depths of human emotions, from the despair of death to the joyous love story so central to the book – which gently unfolds into deep passion and meshes seamlessly with another love affair: with the sea itself.
Bravo, Lynton: quite simply, a unique book that haunts one long after reading, leaving one both challenged and uplifted.
George Branch – Author and Emeritus Professor,
Biological Science, University of Cape Town
"I have always wanted to write an underwater love story," Lynton Francois Burger says in regards to his debut novel, She Down There. But in actuality Burger's novel contains more than one romance and, uniquely, the central affair is between the sea and all who adore her. Like many a love story, the book begins with heartbreak. In the opening pages, set in 1768, the mysterious character known as She Down There witnesses the death of the last of Steller's sea cows.
Threaded between the main romance are smaller stories of modern love and heartache. The most notable is set in the early '90s in Mozambique between Claire, a Canadian scientist from the Haida culture, and Klaas, a South African divemaster who is a direct descendant from the 18th century Griqua rebel leader, Klaas Afrikaner. Their individual tales open with echoes of She Down There's loss, where both are confronted with unexpected hardship or tragedy, sending their lives into unexpected trajectories. Claire and Klaas's cultures form a part of the essential scaffolding to this unique ecological tale, which draws from a wide breadth of ocean mythologies. Even the title of the book comes from the Aleut/Inuit tale of Sedna. "I believe," says Burger, "it is one of the oldest 'mermaid' myths in the world."
With each dive Claire and Klaas make, Burger creates an atmosphere and tone so textured, lush and alive that it is as if the reader is beside them: tasting the salt, smelling the kelp, witnessing the sea life, all while experiencing the feel of the water's might and gentle caress.
The descriptive and characterisation genius of John Steinbeck and Ernest Hemingway have played a big role in shaping my writing style,' says Burger. As influential as these authors may have been, Burger has created a novel that embodies a vivid writing style of its own."
"If you are fascinated by the life of the sea, you cannot miss this poignant story of close encounters and connections under the waves. Ultimately this is a love story, but it is also a travelogue of undersea adventure, a lyrical re-telling of myths and legends of the deep and a burning inditement of poachers and polluters.
It is no surprise that the author, Lynton Francois Burger, is a marine biologist, master diver and award-winning underwater photographer who has explored the oceans of the world. His first-hand knowledge, experience and passion are obvious in the scenes he describes so vividly, although they are depicted through the eyes of his characters. Claire, Klaas and the other characters, including the Mozambican fisherfolk, are vivid and well-defined and the descriptions of land and sea are downright poetic."
"Marine biologist’s first novel is a jewel of the deep.
The novel is a unique, uplifting, educational read that has the potential to turn climate change denialists into passionate conservationists."
“Ernest Hemingway would be proud. His prose was similarly clipped. His words? Terse. Some works also heaved with the ocean. Only with more drunkenness. His prose was punchy. With more punching. There was bullfighting. And salt. And sweat. Evocative. Bloody. He was athletically descriptive, with tales of manhood, and marathon fights with a giant marlin.
This reader was relieved to note that between the covers (of She Down There) we move away from these staccato mini-ads into a more soothing, lyrical flow - an oft sibilant narrative about characters emotionally immersed in the ocean by an author on a calculated quest to evoke deep empathy for the ocean. Much of the book takes place underwater."