Helen R Brown

Out of the depths

After her partner drowns rescuing their son in the Caribbean, Decca Aitkenhead finds her only hope is to write about it

‘This happens to other people.’ The Guardian journalist Decca Aitkenhead says she had heard the phrase countless times, interviewing the survivors of random disasters, and the idea had always puzzled her: ‘Why would they think other people are any different from them?’ But when her partner of ten years drowned while rescuing their small son from the Jamaican sea on a family holiday in May 2014, she was startled to catch herself feeling exactly the same thing. She unpicks the emotion in her piercing account of his death and the strange series of events surrounding it:

We read about freak disasters every day, knowing perfectly well that the news is not fiction. And yet, deep down, what we are reading must feel to us made up. Why else would we be so incredulous when they happen to us? Even the journalists who report them must be in the same boat. I have been writing about real people for all these years, and apparently had not grasped that they were real.

To be fair, Aitkenhead’s story began to seem surreal, even to her, from the minute she left her cosy Hackney home and her marriage to Reuters photographer Paul Hackett to move into a sci-fi Canary Wharf apartment with a crack-addicted cocaine dealer. She would get up at 8 a.m. and head to her desk in the spare room with a coffee to begin writing. He would rise at 4 p.m., watch Sky News with a spliff and begin making calls. His growled threats coming through the wall were so menacing they could make her jump. They were hard to reconcile with the man who would then pad through to her in his slippers to give her a gentle kiss before heading out to make good on those threats. He was always honest with her: violence was his favourite part of the job.

The love story at the heart of All at Sea is riveting.

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