by Anna Snoekstra
Publisher/Year: HQ Fiction/2022
Jo Ainsley has been running for a long time. From her childhood in small town England to art school in London to the messy end of a relationship in Sydney, Jo has chosen to run again and again, each time moving further from where her troubles began.
This time, her escape will bring her to the remote northwest region of Western Australia, where she must work for 88 days on a farm in order to extend her visa. There she meets an American, Gabe, with whom she has an immediate connection. He tells her of an idyllic off-grid community which seems like a refuge to her. Miserable, desperate and traumatised by a brutal event at the farm, Jo decides to run.
But the paradisiac free-diving haven that embraces her without judgement is not all it seems. It harbours some sinister secrets – and so does Gabe. Jo searches for answers, but is she prepared for what she uncovers? She must decide where her loyalties lie and if she is really ready to confront the darkness of her past…
Reviewer: Moraig Kisler
I’m a fan of Anna Snoekstra, but Out of Breath takes her writing to another level. This psychological suspense novel is at times terrifying. After a slow-burning start, a sense of dread and danger intensifies to a terrifying climax. But it’s the characters who had me enthralled. Snoekstra paints interesting and authentic characters whose histories are gradually revealed. Each character has particular quirks which lends authenticity to the story and kept me turning pages to learn more. I feared for Nika, a child abandoned by her mother (or was she?).
Jo Ainsley escapes England after a traumatic incident, and Snoekstra keeps us hanging before finally revealing what happened. Jo also escapes Sydney after a failed relationship to a mango farm in Broome where she must work to extend her visa. It is here she meets the mysterious Gabe to whom Jo is immediately attracted.
After an accident on the farm, Jo again escapes the mango farm to Gabe and the supposed safety of an idyllic community of free-divers. Jo learns to free-dive (scenes filled with magnificent description and dread), and attends one-on-one counselling sessions with the inscrutable Ally, the leader of the community. But does Jo welcome the healing sessions?
Jo gradually learns this haven of free-diving, free-spirits is far from what it seems, rather marred by terrible secrets. Out of Breath is an apt name, because at times I was breathless, worried for Jo’s safety. When Jo questions some unethical practices, she gradually pieces together the truth about the community and, she must again run – this time for her life.
Out of Breath is filled with twists and turns that build to a frightening climax. Snoekstra covers some interesting themes: the effects of trauma on the subconscious and the brain’s refusal to acknowledge or engage, cult manipulation, and the desperate need to belong. Her depiction of the Australian landscape, set around Broome, alone makes Out of Breath worth the read. Snoekstra transported me to this sinister off-grid community.
I certainly recommend Out of Breath – Snoekstra at her best.