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All at Sea by Decca Aitkenhead

All at Sea

We love supporting debut authors. Congrats, Decca Aitkenhead, on your first book!

by Decca Aitkenhead

Quick take

When terrible things happen to brilliant writers, we get to savor the results of nakedly raw writing, we become privy to insights into the human condition.

Why I love it

Maris Kreizman
Author, Slaughterhouse 90210

"The trouble with sadness is that it seldom produces anything new to say," writes Decca Aitkenhead in her haunting memoir about the drowning of her children's father in a freak accident in Jamaica. But Aitkenhead proves herself wrong again and again. Sad but true, when terrible things happen to brilliant writers we become privy to insights into the human condition that couldn't be articulated by those with less talent for words. All at Sea is a beautiful sublimation of grief in the wake of tragedy.

But the book is also the uplifting story of a most unlikely and powerful love affair between two remarkable people. Aitkenhead, a longtime reporter for The Guardian, is fiercely honest about her relationship with her beloved late partner, Tony. Tony is a man worthy of a memoir even if his ending hadn't been tragic: as a drug dealer and crack addict, Tony lives a hustler's life, taking care of "business" at night and waking in the late afternoon (when he's not serving time in jail). But when he and Decca meet, attraction is visceral, and Tony changes his life when they decide to have children together. Her portrait of him is remarkable: she sees all of his flaws and is not afraid to expose his weaknesses, but she also clearly loves and admires him and finds him utterly charming, and so, then, the reader does as well. That Tony drowned trying to save their son from a squall makes him a hero in newspaper articles, but he was a hero in Decca's eyes long before he passed away.

Aitkenhead is self-conscious about the act of writing, about how she must turn these devastating events into a narrative that is both accurate and compelling. Writing so recently after Tony's death (in 2014) seems dangerous given how little distance she's had: "Death is too much for the mind to register in a matter of minutes; the incalculable magnitude can only be absorbed by increment, day by day," she writes. But as she says plainly in the book's introduction, "I don't want to forget." So she chronicles their relationship — its ups and downs and its joys and complexities—for herself and her two young sons. That the reader also gets to savor the results of such nakedly raw writing is an added bonus. All at Sea is not a story of finding redemption in calamity, but rather, of relearning how to live a life very different from how the author planned it to be. We can't control who we love or what happens to them or even how we grieve for them, but there is some control to be found in writing about them, by sharing the stories to honor those we love.

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Member thoughts

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479 ratings
  • 29% Love
  • 44% Like
  • 16% Dislike
  • Rockville, MD

    Not only is she a great writer, but Aitkenhead is perhaps even more impressive for her ability to parse out a personal tragedy, find new sources of joy, and to share with the world. Be ready to cry!

  • New York, NY

    It might seem weird but I enjoyed this story of loss. It's heartbreaking but I liked how the author didn't shy away from unflattering details about who her husband really was and herself as well.

  • Brighton , MA

    Aitkenhead's portrayal of her grief and the life she lived with and without her partner was astonishingly real and wonderfully written. A lesson on grief and what comes after everyone should read!

  • Maumee, OH

    This is now one of my favorite books! Decca Aitkenhead writes so beautifully, you think she's sitting in the room telling this story in person. You'll laugh and cry and never want it to end.

  • Port Jervis, NY

    Decca Aitkenhead's heartbreaking journey from the moment she met Tony to the moment he died really captures what loss means. There's no one way to grieve and Decca perfectly described that.

  • Big Flats, NY

    The loss of the author of this novel is heartbreaking. It causes the reader to think about one's reaction to losing a loved one. The author tells of all of the unglamorous stages of grief.

  • Wichita, KS

    I'm a fan of memoirs and this one did not disappoint. It was sorrowful. I've not personally dealt with anything similar, but the author made you feel her emotions along with her.

  • Irvine, CA

    The way this book is written makes it very much a page turner. I personally felt invested in everyone involved. If you have suffered in losing a loved one, please read this book.

  • Boston, MA

    This book is tragic, but it gets the tragedy over with in the beginning. It doesn't let you build up hope. Instead, it shows you how to deal with tragedy. I couldn't put it down!

  • Wethersfield, CT

    i have great respect and admiration for someone who is exposing them self at this level. I found it real, emotional moving and practical for the education and support of others

  • St Louis Park, MN

    A book about grief that is telling, raw, and relatable. It inspires you to explore and accept your own feelings, misgivings, and missteps through a new and empowered lens.

  • Torrance, CA

    I have an obsession with tragedy, perhaps because I've never been through it, and this memoir goes into detail of what that's like, but it's also a fantastic love story.

  • Lake Villa, IL

    Beautiful tribute to Tony. It is a great reminder that everyone deals with grief differently. There is no right or wrong. It is important to stay true to yourself.

  • Truckee, CA

    This book really got to me. Decca really did a great job of bringing us into her grief as it happened, no glossing over her true feelings and misgivings.

  • Saint Louis, MO

    The language is terse but the story is heartfelt. Much as Decca can't help but fall for mismatched Tony, you can't help but fall for her storytelling.

  • North Irwin, PA

    So emotional! This was my first forray into memoirs, and it was written with such depth and detail. A touching tribute to someone loved & lost too soon!

  • Portland, OR

    Death is awful for the ones left behind. This book had me crying all the way through, while also leaving me feeling like I can get through anything.

  • Miami, FL

    I cried a few times, but also laughed. The author describes their amazing story in a way that in the end it makes you miss for her what she lost

  • Langhorne, PA

    Decca Aitkenhead did a wonderful job describing her grief and growth. I was surprised with out this started, but found myself happy at the end!

  • Finksburg, MD

    You can genuinely feel the love and care taken in writing this book. What a perfect way to honor their imperfectly human lives together.

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