by James Murray-White
really lets this collection down that there is no introduction (an
editor is not named): it would have grounded the book in something less
vague than ‘sea stories’. I felt frustrated not to know how the 16
stories were chosen – was there a competition, a commissioning process,
or are the writers all ‘friends’ of the Museum?
Four of the 16
were either entertaining, well crafted, and worth pursuing to the end.
Of these, Sam Llewellyn’s opening The
Shoals stood out – his antagonist, Alexander Rourke, is a
convincing grafter made good, born to the water, hardened by a life on
it, hardened against his fellow men and deserving of a watery
starting the book with this cracker sets the bar too high, and stories
rapidly descend to the depths after this. The Doldrums by
John Williams and Fresh
Water by Chris Cleave are examples of stories that paddle
around in the shallows for a while, hint at structure, plot and story,
but then sail back to the safety of the shore.
I lost interest in Margaret Elphinstone’s King’s Daughter of Norroway,
and Desmond Barry’s Devonia
and Getting there is
half the fun by James Scudamore were frankly terrible:
nothing more than dull efforts to get the sea into any kind of
half-baked story. These writers should know that randomly throwing
story ideas into the ocean often result in a drowning. Don’t bother
Niall Griffiths has some salt to it, as you would hope from such a dark
and disturbing writer as this. He employs dense language to create an
eerie underwater world, which his narrator tells in hindsight, from the
quay of a fishing village, as a strange object is brought up.
More stories of this calibre would have created a maelstrom of a book.
Fewer stories of watches recovered from The Titanic, bereaved old men
reminiscing in museums, and finding things amongst the dunes, because
you end up with literary flotsam. These stories ebb and float away...
Perrin’s The Snow Goose
and Nick Parker’s The
Museum of the Sea redeem the collection as the two closing
pieces. Perrin takes us to the Inuit hunting grounds of the Arctic, in
a worthy meeting of two civilizations dependent upon the sea for
exploration and livelihoods. His writing echoes Andrea Barrett’s more
detailed telling of the ill-fated Franklin expedition.
Parker’s lighter piece pokes fun at pompous officialdom, on a quest
(maybe) to create a museum; a autocratic director
named Mallard and his zealous minions eager to please –
hinting maybe at the bureaucracy behind the publishers of this very
watery volume? Thanks for a laugh, Nick Parker.
These four good
stories would be better served with less unsatisfying padding around
them – too much gristle, with little enough crab claw. This book is
like the excitement of a day spent deep sea fishing – putting a rod
into a vast ocean of words, with a quarter chance of pulling up an
edible fish and a digestible story.
a Jerusalem-based freelance journalist, writer (of all sorts), and
documentary filmmaker. In his spare time he loves fish and chips and
Publisher: National Maritime Museum (UK)
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