Ocean of text

Risingtidefallingstar (4th Estate) is Philip Hoare’s third book about the sea, and he writes, ‘Sometimes I think I can only think of the sea’. But this is not a book about summer seaside vacations. Rather, he swims no matter the weather, and writes about the cold, storms, drownings, shipwrecks, and about the eccentric authors and artists (Woolf, Plath, Shakespeare, Jack London, and of course Melville and Robert Louis Stevenson) who, like himself, were mesmerised by the mystery and vastness of our oceans. He trawls through literature and the biographies of artists to fish out water-related anecdotes, some of which are decidedly feverishly strange, such as Stephen Tennant’s retreat to his extravagantly decorated, ocean-themed country house where he hardly ever leaves his bed and asks, ‘Do people still think of me in London?’.

Themes run like currents through the ocean of text – Cape Cod, Thoreau, World War I, Lord Nelson, seals, whales, The Tempest, Shelley and Byron, wild fashion, forbidden relationships, suicides, David Bowie. The language of the sea infiltrates his observations of other things. Second-hand books are described as being ‘stranded’ on a shelf. Hoare is a literary and cultural beachcomber. Every bit of flotsam catches his attention. He suggests that the dream of astrophysicists is to find a planet almost entirely made of water. He describes the splendour of fin whales feeding, but is not too delicate to describe dead, washed-up animals. He picks up a deer skull from the beach and buries it in his garden, antlers protruding.

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