Fish, flesh, or good red herring?

A Complex Coast: A Kayak Journey from Vancouver Island to Alaska
by David Norwell

Victoria: Heritage House, 2023
$29.95  /  9781772034493

Reviewed by Jeanette Taylor


David Norwell’s playful watercolour paintings are an immediate draw into his debut book, A Complex Coast. They inject life into his interpretative sidebars about the rich marine life he encountered on a journey by kayak from Victoria, BC to Gustavus, Alaska, undertaken in successive stages. His attractive maps keep readers in sync with his movements; and his passion for the coast and the people and critters who live there sparkles.

That, on the colourful surface, appears to be this book’s premise: an adventuresome journey along a dangerous coast filled with wonders. But tucked beneath that bright surface is a soul-searching memoir that dips deep into Norwell’s youthful ruminations about life and love, connection and disconnection, and the ponderings of an environmentalist worried about the future of our planet. (Is it possible to be the world traveler he defines himself as and an environmentalist? George Monbiot would say no. But I digress.)

David Norwell earned a BSc in Geography from UVic

True to the memoir form, Norwell exposes his foibles and a harmful addiction, opening his tender nature as a reflection of what it means to be human. The depth of these musings claim center stage as his story progresses. The adventure itself, the endless days of solitude, transiting dangerous rapids, winds and weather, becomes simply a challenging and wondrous catalyst for his inner quest.

For this reader therein lies a disappointment. The expectations established on the book’s bright surface were only partially met. That said, there’s a spirited new voice at play here, with writing that flips from lyrical portraits of place to colloquial phrasing and pet names for everything from his kayak to his food.

There will surely be more from David Norwell in future; perhaps—hopes this reader—with more focal delivery.


Jeanette Taylor

Jeanette Taylor is the author of the recent Sheltering in the Backrush: A History of Twin Islands, as well as Tidal Passages: A History of the Discovery Islands, The Quadra Story: A History of Quadra Island, and River City: A History of Campbell River and the Discovery Islands. An avid kayaker, she lives on Quadra Island.


The British Columbia Review

Interim Editors, 2023-24: Trevor Marc Hughes (non-fiction), Brett Josef Grubisic (fiction)
Publisher: Richard Mackie

Formerly The Ormsby Review, The British Columbia Review is an on-line book review and journal service for BC writers and readers. The Advisory Board now consists of Jean Barman, Wade Davis, Robin Fisher, Barry Gough, Hugh Johnston, Kathy Mezei, Patricia Roy, Maria Tippett, and Graeme Wynn. Provincial Government Patron (since September 2018): Creative BC. Honorary Patron: Yosef Wosk. Scholarly Patron: SFU Graduate Liberal Studies. The British Columbia Review was founded in 2016 by Richard Mackie and Alan Twigg.

“Only connect.” – E.M. Forster

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