Decca Aitkenhead never meant to fall in love with Tony. A drug dealer who was already married, Tony seemed the least likely candidate for a serious love affair. But insuppressible attraction and deep emotional intimacy led the British couple to a partnership that lasted nearly 10 years—until Tony, a man in his prime, suddenly died inside the space of 10 minutes while on vacation with his wife and two children in Jamaica.
Aitkenhead’s new book chronicles the terrible details of Tony’s death by drowning and her mourning in the year that followed. “You always said I should write a book about you,” she writes in the dedication to Tony. “It wasn’t meant to be this one.” As this wrenching dedication suggests, Aitkenhead is an unsparing writer. Her understated prose makes the story surge forward with force.
It is not, though, an unusual story. Like many grief-stricken widows, Aitkenhead found herself, in the wake of tragedy, to be a person she did not know. This new Decca Aitkenhead had enormous and unpredictable needs. She felt split in half. Though it was her partner who drowned, it was Aitkenhead who was, as the title puts it, all at sea.
Aitkenhead is well known in England as a journalist, and she brings an intensity and objectivity to her story that is tremendously appealing. The consternation of how to remember Tony—and how to remember that heartbreaking day with her children—show up in ways both symbolic and mundane: how to plan the funeral, how to talk about Tony with her children, whether or not to bring new kittens into the household, whether or not to return to Jamaica. Though ostensibly a story of loss, this is also a story of survival by a woman who is strong, self-perceptive and a beautiful writer.