In the tradition of Alex Garland’s The Beach, a spine-tingling adventure novel about a group of friends whose journey around the world on a yacht turns from a trip to paradise into a chilling nightmare when one of them disappears at sea.
A group of friends. A yacht. And a disappearance-at-sea that turns paradise into a chilling nightmare.
Lana and her best friend Kitty leave home looking for freedom—and that’s exactly what they find when they are invited onto The Blue, a fifty-foot yacht making its way from the Philippines to New Zealand. The crew is made up of a group of young travellers bitten by wanderlust, and it doesn’t take long for Lana and Kitty’s dream of sea-bound romance to turn into reality.
Both women fall under the hypnotic spell of The Blue, spending their days exploring remote islands and their rum-filled nights relaxing on deck beneath the stars. But when one of their friends disappears overboard after an argument with another crewmember, the dark secrets that brought each of them aboard start to unravel.
At turns gorgeously scenic and entirely haunting, The Blue is a page-turning thriller about friendship, freedom and wanting to leave the past behind.
The paintbrush slips from Lana’s fingers, turning through the air as it falls. It clatters to the floor at the foot of the easel, splattering tiny flecks of blue acrylic paint against her ankle.
Lana doesn’t glance down, doesn’t notice the spots of paint that decorate the small tattoo of a wing inked on her ankle. Her gaze remains fixed on the radio that sits on the windowsill, her fingers raised as if still holding the brush to the canvas. That silver box of metal and wires holds the entire sum of her concentration as she focuses on the voice of a news presenter.
“. . . has sunk a hundred nautical miles off the north coast of New Zealand. The yacht—The Blue—was believed to have left Fiji eight days ago with a crew of five on board, including two New Zealanders. A search-and-rescue operation has been launched from the Maritime Rescue Centre at the Bay of Islands. The Coast Guard has described the sea state as moderate with wind speeds of up to twenty knots.”
Lana blinks, struggling to absorb the information, as if it’s rain running off hard, scorched earth. Her gaze bores into the radio, willing it to disclose something more, but the newscaster has already moved on to the next story.
She turns on the spot, lifting a hand to her head. She feels the cool silk of her headscarf keeping her hair off her face. It has been eight months since she stepped from that yacht, her skin tanned, her feet bare, a backpack heaved onto her shoulders. She’d walked along the shoreline with dark hollows beneath her eyes and hadn’t looked back. She couldn’t.
As she turns, she catches sight of herself in the long mirror that leans against her apartment wall. She stares: her face has paled, and large green eyes glare back at her, wide with questions. Was Kitty still on board after all this time? Had she stayed even after Lana left? It’s possible that Kitty could have returned to England. Lana tries to picture her riding the Tube with a script in her hand, glossy dark hair loose over her shoulders, her lips painted red. But the image won’t form, not clearly. She knows that Kitty wouldn’t have left the yacht, because how could either of them go home after what’d happened?
It has been eight months since they’ve last seen each other—the longest time in their friendship they’ve ever spent apart. She thinks about Kitty’s e-mails still sitting unread in her in-box. At first, they came in thick and fast; then there were gaps—a few days, sometimes a week. Lana began imagining the patterns of the yacht as it sailed through remote island chains, wondering what was happening on board, who Kitty was spending her time with. Eventually, with her head too full of images, she stopped reading the e-mails. Stopped thinking about Kitty.
Now a beautiful memory gusts into her thoughts, bright as a kite. She and Kitty, eleven years old, sitting cross-legged on her bedroom floor braiding friendship bracelets. “This is yours,” Kitty had said, holding up a slim cotton bracelet woven with turquoise and yellow threads—Lana’s favorite colors. Kitty tied it firmly over Lana’s wrist, using her teeth to get the knot in exactly the right position. When Kitty pulled away, there was a small smear of strawberry lip gloss on the back of Lana’s wrist.
In return, Lana had braided a pink and white bracelet for Kitty, and the two of them had held their wrists side by side and made the promise, “Friends forever.”
Lana had worn her bracelet for eighteen months, until it had faded and frayed to a dishwater gray. It had eventually snapped in the bath, so she’d picked it out and dried it over the towel rail. Then she’d put it away in her memory box with the photo of her mother.
Friends forever, they’d agreed.
A guilty heat crawls across Lana’s skin as she thinks of that failed promise: she’s cut Kitty out of her life, like slicing a bowline and letting a boat drift out to the open ocean.
• • •
Lana waits desperately for another news bulletin. She needs to hear exactly what’s happening out on the water—whether the crew have made it to the life raft, whether any of them are injured—but the radio station is playing a soft rock song that comes strumming into her apartment. She paces to the windowsill and snaps off the radio.
She stays by the open window. Outside, the morning light is thin and hazy, a salt breeze drifting into the room. She pushes up onto her tiptoes, peering beyond the tree line to where she can glimpse the sea. It’s one of the reasons she agreed to rent the apartment, with its cracked wooden floorboards and noisy electric heaters that she has to huddle against in the depths of the New Zealand winter to feel any warmth.
Now that summer is on its way, she’s grateful for the wide windows that let the light flood in, as she sets up her easel in front of them so she can paint before work. She’s made a life of sorts here: she has a job, a place to live, an old car. Her days may not be filled with friends and laughter and noise as they once were, but perhaps it’s better this way.
Sometimes she thinks of her father back in England, in his tired terraced house, spending his evenings alone doing the crossword or watching the news. After all those years of riling against his quiet routines, the irony of how her life has taken on the same lonely rhythm as his hasn’t escaped her. She writes to him every couple of months—just brief letters to reassure him that she’s safe—but she never includes her address. She’s still not ready for that.
Lana arrived in New Zealand eight months ago now, stepping from the plane into the start of autumn, shivering in a sun-bleached cotton dress, her salt-matted hair loose over her shoulders. She’d had a backpack on her shoulders and $500 left of her savings.
She’d spent that first night in an Auckland hostel, lying on a bunk with her eyes closed, waiting to feel it sway and shudder. If someone had walked into her dorm, laid a hand on her shoulder, and asked, Are you okay? Has something happened? she would have told them—told them everything: about the canvas backpack thrown from the side of the yacht, drifting in the sea like a body; about how a horizon curves and wavers when there is no land to break it; about the red sarong pooled on the floor of the cabin, soft beneath Lana’s feet; about a kiss in a cave carved from limestone; about how you can look at your best friend and no longer recognize her. But no one had asked. And as the minutes had crept into hours, and the hours stretched through the night, Lana had pushed down each of those memories, sealing them off.
When dawn had arrived, she’d showered the salt from her skin, letting the water run long and hard, marveling at its seemingly endless supply. Then she’d pulled on her dress, followed by her backpack, and started to walk. The rubber V of her flip-flops rubbed between her toes; she’d been barefoot for weeks. She’d stopped at a sidewalk café and ordered breakfast and a coffee. As she’d wolfed down a salty bacon-and-egg bagel, a car had pulled up with a surfboard strapped to its roof and a handwritten sign taped to the back window, reading FOR SALE, $500. Lana had gotten up from her table and asked the car’s owner, a young Spanish guy whose visa was expiring in two days’ time, if he’d take $300. He said if she dropped him at the airport first, she had a deal.
Afterwards, she’d driven north with no map, no plan, and no one sitting beside her. It had been odd to be behind the wheel of a car after so long, and she kept oversteering into bends, having grown accustomed to the yacht’s helm. The speed and smoothness of road travel unnerved her so much that she’d wound down all the windows to feel the wind against her face.
On that first drive across New Zealand, she’d passed serene dark lakes, endless undulating vineyards, and staggering hillsides, eventually arriving at the coast. That’s where she’d pulled up—on a gravel path that overlooked a bay. She’d parked facing the sea and watched as the waves rolled in, beaching themselves on the shore. When the sun had lowered itself into the sea, she’d climbed onto the backseat, pulled out her sleeping bag from the bottom of her backpack, and wriggled into it, lying with her neck cricked against the door.
If anyone had asked, Why New Zealand? she could have told them that she’d always wanted to travel here—but that would have been only part of the story.
The truth was, Lana had always known that the yacht was going to return here eventually—just as she’d known that New Zealand was where he was from. Perhaps she’d been waiting all these months because, no matter how hard she tried to forget, she still wasn’t ready to let go of The Blue.
This reading group guide for The Blue includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Lucy Clarke. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
Lana and her best friend, Kitty, leave home looking for freedom—and that’s exactly what they find when they are invited onto The Blue, a fifty-foot yacht making its way from the Philippines to New Zealand. Manned by a young crew of wanderers, The Blue is exactly the escape they are looking for, and the two quickly fall under its idyllic spell.
But soon Lana and Kitty begin to discover that they aren’t the only ones with secrets they’d rather run from than reveal. And when one of their new friends disappears overboard after an argument with the other crew members, the dark secrets that brought each of them aboard start to unravel. . . .
Topics and Questions For Discussion
1. Think about the state of Lana’s and Kitty’s lives and their friendship together that attracts them to joining The Blue. Why do they both feel the need to escape their everyday lives? Do you think there’s truth to the saying that “A change is as good as a rest”? 2. The story switches swiftly between Lana’s time on The Blue and the present, when she learns of the yacht’s accident. She thinks, “If [she] had known everything she does now, she wonders whether she’d ever have set foot on The Blue” (p. 39). What were your first guesses or inklings as to what had transpired within the crew after Lana’s departure?
3. Lana and Denny seem to have an instant attraction to each other when Lana boards The Blue. What do you think draws them together?
4. The author made the conscious decision to make every character on board The Blue be a young, fit person with the need for freedom. How much do you believe that youth inspires feelings of immortality and indestructability, and do you believe these feelings affect the crew and their attitude toward their journey? How do you think their attitudes change after The Blue’s accident, in the “NOW” chapters? 5. From the very beginning of their journey, something seems particularly mysterious and dark about the appointed skipper, Aaron. Did your suspicions of him evolve along with Lana’s, and if so, how?
6. As each of the crew members’ dark secrets slowly come to light aboard The Blue, the idyllic nature of this seeming paradise also seems to grow more sinister and claustrophobic. Talk about the ways the author attains this with descriptions of atmosphere, Lana’s mental state, her suspicions, and the confined boat. 7. How do Lana’s opinions of Joseph, Shell, and the other crew members change when she encounters them off the boat? Have you ever been shocked to see someone you know out of their normal context? How much do you think one’s environment can inform one’s personality and identity?
8. Lana is the only crew member who thinks it’s wrong not to mention Joseph’s disappearance to the authorities. Describe what you might do in this situation, and if you can see reason in the rest of the crew’s ultimate decision.
9. When Lana leaves The Blue, she purposely misses her own opportunity to alert the authorities. Why do you think she does this?
10. Lana ultimately decides to read Kitty’s emails and forgive her—do you believe that this was an instance of “time heals all wounds”? Describe an experience in which time and distance did, or did not, alter a tremendous event in your own life.
11. How do you think Lana’s and Kitty’s experiences on The Blue will change their relationship from now on? Ponder the nature of forgiveness in their relationship—do you believe one can really “forgive and forget”?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Have you ever felt the need to escape to an exotic new place? Go around the room and talk about your own vision of paradise, and how you might be able to attain that in some small way in your everyday life.
2. The veiling of secrets and personalities play a pivotal role in The Blue. Have you ever had an experience where your first impression of someone changed as you got to know him or her better? Talk about your experience, and maybe even share your own first impressions of your fellow book club members.
3. Dive into Lucy Clarke’s previous books, A Single Breath and Swimming at Night, for your next book club meetings. What common themes do you see in each, and how does The Blue seem different?
A Conversation with Lucy Clarke
Your novels often feature strong female characters with tight bonds to other women. Do you have a friendship like Lana and Kitty’s?
I love exploring relationships between women because the bonds that connect them are so often complex and fascinating. I’ve known my two best friends since we were five years old. I certainly drew on the deep sense of connection we share when writing Lana and Kitty’s friendship—although our friendship is far less complicated and volatile, thankfully! Having said that, a few real experiences have been sewn into the fabric of Lana and Kitty’s friendship, such as the flashback of the girls hiding in the theater props room at school and trying on all the costumes!
Have you ever felt the need to escape to an almost unreal paradise like Lana? If so, how did you find it?
I live on the south coast of England, which is a wonderful place to be in the summer. But, come winter, when the sea is too cold to play in and gray skies can linger for days, I start to get itchy feet. Luckily, my husband is a keen traveler, too, so every winter we disappear to the southern hemisphere—the more remote the place, the better. We love to camp, hike, surf, and swim. We spent the winter before last in the Philippines, researching for The Blue. We visited many uninhabited islands and found some of the most spectacular beaches I’ve ever seen. But, no matter how strong my wanderlust is, at the end of each trip I’m always happy to come home.
Dark secrets play a huge role in this book, as well as in your previous novels, A Single Breath and Swimming at Night. What is your attraction to characters with secrets?
Secrets fascinate me. There is just something so irresistible about the words “Can you keep a secret?” In my novels I love exploring dark secrets—the ones that are tightly wrapped with lies, and presented as truth. Those are the dangerous ones—where everything is at stake if the truth surfaces.
What are your strongest influences when approaching a new novel?
I like to set my novels in a place—or places—that excite and inspire me. I must be able to really see and feel a place before I’m able to imagine my characters there. I also love exploring the shift in characters when they are removed from an environment they know intimately and displaced somewhere foreign. I enjoy seeing how they react, whether they flourish or flounder in that new space—and ultimately, how the experience changes them.
You’ve spoken before about your own experiences inspiring your novels. What place or circumstance gave you the idea for this one?
A few years ago I was lucky enough to be invited to spend a week on board a yacht with a friend and her extended family. Having never sailed before, it was incredible to spend day and night on the water, to eat our meals on deck, to anchor in deserted lagoons, to fall asleep to the sound of waves. But what stayed with me after the trip was how interesting the dynamics can be when you’re confined to the small space of a yacht, as emotions become heightened and events can quickly escalate. By the end of that trip, I knew that one day I’d set a novel on board a yacht.
Which character do you find yourself relating to or empathizing with the most?
It would have to be Lana. Since she was the lead protagonist, I spent a great deal of time living inside her head, so now I feel a deep connection with all that she goes through in the novel. I understand her need to escape her past and discover somewhere new—somewhere untouched. But just as she grasps this seeming paradise, it begins to crumble beneath her fingertips.
Lucy Clarke is the author of Swimming at Night and A Single Breath. She and her husband, a professional windsurfer, spend their winters traveling and their summers at their home on the south coast of England. Visit Lucy-Clarke.com.
“Two girlhood friends join the laid-back crew of a yacht exploring idyllic islands. Smooth sailing? Ha! Lagoon swims and boozy nights turn sinister in an atmospheric thriller.” —People
“Vivid imagery, increasing tension, and smooth prose immerse the reader in the rhythm of the ocean and the isolation of life at sea. Fans of psychological suspense will be taken in by Clarke’s (Swimming at Night; A Single Breath) fact-paced and engrossing read.” —Library Journal
“The Blue is worth staying up all night for. A thrilling plot, perfectly rendered scenery, and characters as real as your best friend—or your worst enemy. … It will make you want to drop everything and sail away. Spellbinding.” —Marissa Stapley, bestselling author of Mating for Life
“[Clarke] paints brilliant images of physical surroundings and takes readers on an emotional journey as she explores the fragile bonds that connect each crew member to the others. … The narrative is punctuated with interesting, unpredictable plot twists that keep coming until the final page.” —KIRKUS REVIEWS
“[An] intriguing tale of nautical misadventure … Clarke handles the joys, challenges, and chores of sailing with easy confidence and does just as fine a job with her misfit crew and their easily upset equilibrium.” —Publishers Weekly
“An intriguing and twisty thriller.” —Sunday Mirror
“A twist-filled novel.” —Closer
“A gripping thriller, packed with unexpected twists, turns and complex secrets. … The ultimate beach read.” —Cosmopolitan, Book of the Month
“A gripping page-turner.” —Bella
“Tense and atmospheric, The Blue begins as an exotic adventure and turns chilling as tragedy and secrets unfold on the open sea. Clarke vividly depicts the ocean voyage in this immersive tale—both the beauty of an idyllic escape and its descent into something more sinister.” —Laura
McHugh, author of The Weight of Blood
“I found The Blue an immensely engaging and enjoyable novel which became increasingly compelling as I read on, building tension and throwing up unexpected twists and turns right to the very last page. A perfect summer read!” —Susan Elliot Wright, author of The Things We Never Said