Book of the Sea




My previous reviews of this publisher HERE

“Being a collection of weird new writings” by David Yates, Rosalie Parker, Tom Johnstone, Stephen J. Clark, Karim Ghahwagi, Colin Fisher, Jane Jakeman, Michael R. Colangelo, Colin Insole, Jonathan Eeds, Albert Power, Martin Jones, S.A. Rennie, Charles Schneider, Jonathan Wood, Tim Foley, Joseph Dawson, D.F. Lewis, George Berguño, Richard Sheppard, Steven Pirie.

When I read this book, my thoughts will appear in the comment stream below…


35 thoughts on “Book of the Sea

  1. I estimate starting to read and review this book in about three weeks from now.
    It is a beautiful tome, with colour endpapers, a watermark, and much internal artwork.
    320 pages. Restricted to 400 copies.


  2. I: Ligan

    Others’ Tears
    David Yates

    “The horizon surrounds you.”

    …being a feeling I have with the opening of every book I read. But particularly with this book. An opening poem by a poet of whom I have not previously heard. A mixture of an archaic feel, modern free verse enjambment and fresh looking turns of phrase, with two or three words that might be extinct or neologistic, but overall a sense of becoming one with the sea or it with you. Enjambment indeed, with, say, an eel threading its exposed ribs. A premature gestalt of sea and you — yet to re-disentangled, examined by tides of words and then made whole again eventually? Ligan with its hawling float of Logos.

  3. WAITING by Rosalie Parker

    At first I thought this was an old-fashioned, uninspired, if well written, tale of the sea. “A Waiting Widow.” Like the stoical French Lieutenant’s Woman. Standing on the harbour wall. Here awaiting her sweetheart assumed lost in the tea-clipper from China. But he does return eventually, sadly having almost forgotten her. But then, as if by some magic and induced by some god of literature, I realised that I had been meant to read a story entitled ‘Bright November’ (here) only minutes before reading this Parker one. A helpful nudge. A useful ligan. Which is the correct world and which is its dark mirror? Our broken half or the other integral half? And Parker’s last sentence suddenly seemed to make significant sense by a symbolism of hemispheres. And I ended up inspired. Honestly. You couldn’t make it up.

    My previous reviews of this author: and

  4. IN THE HOLD, IT WAITS by Tom Johnstone

    “, as though the monsters had made of them a jumbled up puzzle for me to solve and reassemble.”

    Which I would hope to do, too. By dint of a kiss as ligan. A float tagged for recovery? A secretly conceived or preternaturally parthenogenetic or virgin birth within the hold of a secret womb? “Down below.”
    I must say, and anyone who reads this work must also surely say, this is a highly impressive fiction, beyond any expectation from a modern pen. It has all the old-fashioned narrative skills of a Captain Marryat or William Hope Hodgson, in spades … in blackened sails, too. It has all the panache of bucaneering adventure, the dark ambivalent power of the poet Milton, the cinematic strength of the most heart-recoiling of zombie visions. All with a descriptive power that is literally breathtaking. The subtle but also brazen characterisation of a woman (as the ship’s captain) from slave stock of this 18th century scenario, with Dutch-African trade implications. A metaphor for our renewed trade wars today, and other blights of today’s right-wing populist politics and racial intolerance. And above all, this work has the concept of a tangible curse to end all such concepts. And, indeed, none of this is beyond the germ of hope with which I embarked above when first launching my review of this significant work.

    My previous reviews of this author:


    “The sea transforms everything. Nothing that has been touched by it can be the same again.”

    A mission statement for Book of the Dead, sorry, Book of the Sea – a seaweedy slip at the ‘wrack line’ of words.
    This novelette is an accomplished involving old-fashioned narrative of a wood-carver travelling, via the locals’ reticence, to a lonely Scottish island, with a word slipped in here and there, like ‘vulva’ that might not bear inference. Yet, it is a traditional tale of the sound of the churning sea, as sporadic white noise, here caused by some quirk of folklore or geological whirlpool. Or by both. An old woman yearning for completion of a wood sculpture (whether old ship’s figurehead or not) that has worn away its own face, or hers. A veil to be carved as well as what is under it. For some eschatological ritual come her end moment. The young maid at the atmospheric house as party to this plan. The wood-carver is naive, and subsumed by dreams and the sea’s ‘blessings’ as ligan rather than flotsam or seaweed’s “accrual”, although the word ‘flotsam’ slips out seaweedily in this otherwise perfectly meticulous text. The sea as a wistful force. On another less deep level, a naive tale of the traditional weird fiction or supernatural canon. “I looked for auguries of gull feathers and writing in the sand.” “Memory is tidal.” This book is at its own wrack line. The map on the back cover looks as if it has been in the sea for some while. In a shipwreck’s library, now about to be re-inked into a new tidal palimpsest as this story’s wooden sculpture was regathered from eroded aesthetics.

    My previous reviews of this author:

  6. 728BD19B-A151-47B2-A6EE-48F7EF1E1BCBTHE SORROWS OF SATAN’S BOOK by Karim Ghahwagi

    “It tinted the artist studio with a strange quality that made it almost feel like they were submerged at the bottom of the sea.”

    We see this borderline edgy, intriguing, optically illusory novelette through a film not darkly but with pareidolia and colours as if from a Poe Masque, a leasehold or freehold narration of a protagonist (through the filter of his niece, it turns out?) with a handful of typos like a fragment of a film loop been in its canister too long. It has connections with the previous story in that we are told via the voice of this protagonist’s voice of a concomitance of currents and geology creating here a vortex or whirlpool in the Skagerrak, the inspiring genius loci of that area in 1930s pre Scandinavian Noir but steeped here with a Satanic Noir of Marie Corelli’s Sorrows and the then Scandinavian cinema scene (a text footnoted and seemingly academic) mixed with a Midsummer Eve ritual on the beach with perhaps a descendant of the miscegenate female narrator of the Johnstone story…. A complex series of filmic developments (acetate?) in a darkroom of the mind, a murder mystery, too, with the investigating policeman steeped in cinematic lore, too, and our protagonist himself mourning his own wife to the sea’s drowning, while the dead man’s wife is accused of her husband’s murder. This is a rich text with insidiously shifting facets, so utterly rich, it is also seemingly steeped upon the edge of madness at the niecely nexus of the protagonist, I feel, and it also has reference to one of my favourite Scandinavian composers, Hugo Alfvén. Sashaying seaweed. Rumours. A “totality of the paintings”, a gestalt of a single room’s art, an alchemy and aesthetics that I happened to read about while Britten’s Sea Interludes were on the radio. Everything was in place to make this jigsaw fit, even with the photo of the book I took earlier this morning. And a wild, sea-subsuming dream as its climax beyond any ligan, except perhaps the ligan of footnotes gives a sense of being kept afloat from below. “What the Devil has happened!?” – Nexsø as source protagonist himself asked. I think I may now know more than those involved. Leasehold protagonism of a Journal or the subsequent Niecehold storifying or Ghahwagi’s freehold authorship, whichever you choose this text to be. Probably a blend of all three? Perhaps, the reader alone has the potential, if not the ability, to be omniscient about it. Even the copy of the Corelli concerned was hand-annotated. And I think any long-term susceptibility to the sea can cause madness, not just specifically this story’s brilliantly conjured genius loci — “A kind of ‘artist’s sickness’, or ‘painterly madness’, has been documented in numerous sources and known to effect painters obsessed with Skagen’s particular alchemy of sea water and sunlight.”


    THE STORM BROOD by Colin Fisher

    “where the sum of giants
    means to them.”

    This incredible poem also has remarkable thematic resonance with a story I just read and reviewed a few minutes ago here. So utterly different from each other as works of visionary imagination and serious thought, but bound together by some autonomous god of literature, beyond my capacity to understand, but within an ability, it seems, to map. A synergy of otherwise discrete works. Each with a shared greatness in their own vastly different ways and means.

  8. BY SEVERN’S FLOOD by Jane Jakeman

    A memorable memorial (not a truism or tautology) for the narrator’s childhood, just after the war, a time I guess matching my own during the 1950s on the diametrically opposite coast or estuary. Unless she speaks of the first not second war? It is what post-war is for you. Always a post-war for this reader as I ride her description of the Severn Bore, about her two superstitious Methodist maiden-aunts who naively let her roam equally naively, ‘playing’ by the coast, a bout of the then common measles allowing a timely first experience of the Bore and what burden the Bore might have borne. The fact that some of the drowned bodily spirits of the drowned dead had just been conferred within the earth by the Catholic Church, a church as a significant architectural part of this vision, reminds me that I first encountered the concept, a different concept, of this Bore many years ago in Priest’s Dream of Wessex. The Bore of literature has its own flotsam of memories.

  9. BREAKWATER LODGE by Michael R. Colangelo

    “, the decision was rather like flipping a coin. There was no correct deduction to make. It was a certain injection of luck into this game that he’d been playing thus far.”

    What is to float in? – by just chancing one’s crazy arm with absurd laughter, with odd-pick ups along the way and the undertow of a siren weakness in the shoals of his soul…
    References to Moby Dick, and I do not want to appear obsessed with my alignments of dreamcatching and hawling the seas for synchronicity, but this otherwise engaging and intriguing story, although written before all these thing happened, is the perfect metaphor and fable for what happened today in Singapore, the endgame of this ‘famed detective’ getting his man purely for kudos. Except the purchase of this particular painted shell eluded him. Read this story for yourself. Check off all the other alignments.

  10. DANCING BOY by Colin Insole

    “, revealing shells of strange beauty. Their whirls, spirals and colours seemed unearthly, as if cascaded in the night from some deranged star.”

    The ultimate story of flotsam. Meanwhile, this book’s seemingly endemic concomitance of “whirlpool” (a word also used in this text) becomes here the swirl of English history, both military and social (jitterbugging) history borne upon the tides of the Blitz and post-war mixed emotions of dread and relief. Both somehow post- both World Wars in palimpsest. I am a long-term enthusiast for Colin Insole fiction, and, almost as a recurrent memory of this happening before, DANCING BOY is an important example of his work. It feeds explicitly upon the part of the Essex coast where I live now and where I was born in 1948 (the year this post-backstory’s story effectively starts) and where my parents also met at a dance, a chance meeting ignited by the war (he a Welsh soldier stationed on this Essex coast) and they gave birth to me and only me… (The story also blends this area with a South Coast chine coast.) And feeding, too, serendipitously and synchronously, from and into my own later piece in this book with the items of ‘found art’ on coasts and other common coincidental factors. The story of a man haunted by a dreaming blend of nostalgia for his sea scout days and being captured near drowning at sea by the Germans during the war. And dogged by his flighty, Blitz-dancing sister and her evolving sculpture on the beach. Behaviourally polarised siblings. And then there is the eponymous boat (built in 1921) that he inherits in more ways than one, the type of which boat is fascinatingly new to me. This is a work with the emotional architecture of our times as born alongside me in 1948, and the endemic backstories that people like me share in gestalt. That you perhaps share, too, without consciously realising it. This is where the Book of Sea truly permeates its tides into all our veins. During this our “bleak traipse” on the land between and amid the sea. Each with our awaiting dancing-boat. As this story indicates, a bespoke boat.

    My previous reviews of Colin Insole:

  11. BELOW DECKS by Jonathan Eeds

    “The world is crashing… crashing…”

    When reading this work, I knew early on that it was a creditable Hodgsonian yarn of a ship becalmed on the Sargasso Sea, under a fallible Captain, a ship beset by illness, viscous farts and acidic belches, that kills all the crew, except the cabin boy… yes, it is that yarn, well-written and engaging. But it turned out to be far more powerful than merely that, as we followed the adventures of the well-characterised cabin boy below desks and then in the life-whaleboat, with talk of many things including a vile neckless and a baby neegra, and considerations of still resonating importance to history and views of our human races. And it was gratifying to be specifically addressed myself as someone who is open-minded, good and kind.
    A blood brother with IN THE HOLD, IT WAITS.

  12. My previous reviews of Albert Power:


    Pages 178 – 196

    “‘No man’s bliss,’ went on the north coast ensorceller, ‘is one with any man else’s, no one man’s privy treasure a mirror of his mate’s.’”

    I am only halfway through this novelette and already am convinced this is something else! No man else’s, indeed. It is convincingly couched, too, in its then contemporary ambiance of the eighteenth century turn of phrase and a structured prose that literally takes the reader’s breath away. There can be nothing else like it, I contend, There is no argument about that. Meanwhile, it is steeped in a seemingly ineluctable story of four men meeting socially in a “frolick” or folly of surplus shop’s timber on the Antrim coast’s rough sea. The host a herbal healer with a wounded gull tethered for such healing … some may consider it a cruel tethering. There is also a maid. And an alembicised experiment to reveal all those what-I-shall-call ‘elses’ that are personal to each man, thus to elicit “the ELIXIR OF PREVISION”, and what do they inadvertently summon from over Antrim’s cliff edge? I shall reveal this astonishing arrival in feminine form in the second half of this review, should I then (after reading the rest of the story) decide it would not be a spoiler.

  13. Pages 196 – 212

    “How does she know him? How does she know him? Hah!”

    How shall I fully know this, too? How shall I impart it to you, as dreamcaught review or critique? Being split into two readings was a brave attempt, at least. It is honestly a major work of spiritual development with sea’s interface. A melodramatically weird yarn of age-trawled force threaded with an unimaginable style as mingled by deliberate or defiant wordiness and even wild pomposity, a style transcended by the pervasively healing or avenging force of woman. Alike Karina the maid and flotsam arriviste Fidelia “of alternated awfulness and allure.” But, while still awaiting its full effects of meaning, how possibly — without other readers’ hawling tides merging with my own — do I become certain about its Power? Hah!


    WITHERNSEA by Martin Jones

    “… Jaws closing
    around the carcass of the shore.”

    For me, the perfect free-wheelingly scanned poetic enjambment of the seaside and what the seaside means to me. Its items of found art and objects and tidal emotions of time, both trivial and important, light and dark, salty sinewy wet and rocky, sandy, eschatological, fearful, inspiring, powerful, a sort of show business of the low soul and high. The jambs and jaws of jetsam. Towards the ‘constant hum’.

    My previous review of Martin Jones:


    “…a curse in the mouths of those who would see the British gone from their shores. And can you blame them?”

    An affair to forget, or an affair to regret? An amoral, adidactic tale, more a rhapsody than a melodrama, but a bit of both, as ships collide, worlds collide, a ricochet within a single house’s colliding, as well as between that house and a storm, the sea’s jetsam of jewels and other rich substances and literature’s jetsam as sea’s black honey, a taste or tale of historic world trade, opium and tea, a son’s yearning for the return of his great trading father (Syme) from China on his last post-retirement voyage, his mother dreaming of Trebizond, Renaissance’s gift, and her son, this tale’s protagonist, gifting her by turns with jetsam’s jewels, and making geometric dividers towards his cruel scrimshaw tutor who has been conspiring against the House Syme, for good or ill. For good or ill. This work is our equivocal punishment, today, an afabulous fable, the ultimate forgetting or regretting for us ALL, today. Some beautiful, powerful passages, and a work as gestalt with which to continue discovering further shoreline treasures and curses behind or beyond its own forgetting and regretting. A voyage in body or spirit, never can you be sure. An ambivalent shadow of authority that will return, if only with the Zeno’s Paradox speed of the Trebizond Tortoise…

  16. THE DAMNATION OF CAPTAIN M’QUHAE by Charles Schneider

    “I do tend to wander, like a ship.”

    A sense of freewheeling fragmentary narration, yet with a steady purpose of “horrors untold” and a strict audit trail where you will will be hard put to link the tantalising details of ships’ figureheads and this narrator of “excess tobacco” and his dear love Nancy Leer, but linked they are terrifically and eventually, via Sirens, porpoises and much more with other sea journeys, told or untold as it were, say, unravelled, by a hard-bitten captain with literary skills, it seems, as he says himself. With the subsequent promise of startling images to accompany the narration. Of nightmare and love. But above all the actual essence of this whole book’s mixed emotions and old adventures of the sea and those of us who read about it herein. We are stowed within this book like Nancy Leer. A mighty collage, now gestalted. Or found within us ourselves now, like leaves steeped in sea, to be slowly unravelled and read. Even the eponymous Captain himself admits to its Art.

    My previous reviews of Charles Schneider: and

  17. FROM WHENCE WE CAME by Jonathan Wood

    “Its final pull is far below in the fathoms of the depths unconnected as yet, but somehow communicated through the motion and the continuum of creation until both the composition and the fatal pull are one and the same.”

    As with the sea, thus, I hope, my gestalt of literature, ten years lasting so far. This work has huge paragraph blocks of sea-transcendent, almost or wholly religious approaches to art and childhood, the narrator’s relationship to his painterly sea-artist uncle, a past relationship now slightly jaundiced, as the boy-become-man takes over his uncle’s house near the sea, trying, almost against the grain, to emulate his uncle’s art and dare the ways to the all-important reef that is in mutual overlook to and from the house. The gestalt of landscape and sea. There is far more. Sound symphonies of sea, blowholes, gulls, tidal sucking, potential and past suicidal embrace, items too numerous to mention them all here. A “thorny crown” and “some vast holy vessel”. A religious tract itself, I found, with my own sense of sea’s and art’s preternatural power, here at last embodied as part of this Sea Bible: to be put in all my future luggage. This story, meanwhile, is vividly sea- and shoreline-tactile, as well as spiritual. Pretentious, yes, but in a full humility submitted towards ineluctable forces outside yourself, forces that merely humour your belief about your own pretend existence as that very self! (As an aside, I will say that I was initially put off by this work’s title as I was ever taught that the word “whence” already entailed “from”. But I always pride myself on not being a grammar prescriptivist, so let it be, I also say! Imagine this parenthetical aside deleted.)

    My previous reviews of Jonathan Wood:

  18. Dear Des,

    Thank you for your deeply sensitive and perceptive review. The grammatical quirk is an old childhood echo of mine, if such things can be thus described.


    by Tim Foley

    “I shivered with the cold and the thought that the child in my arms would necessitate a new addition to our settlement: a graveyard to bury the dead.”

    James’ coda for Jetsam. Though he perhaps miscalls it flotsam, here. But whatever the word, a thoughtful, disarmingly, obliquely bleak and stoical tale of a big storm hitting a cut off island settlement, and, as with the eponymous journal, we absorb an equally cut off fragment of its path of existence, with hints of the buried miscegenations of the dead, seen alongside the island’s misnamed King as lame squatter, witnessing the fruit of the storm having given birth to a still intact bateau … and to their first dead child? And human miscegenation with animal wildness, now a hound to add to its confused sheep. Immigrations mingled like the wrecked fruit of the sea? That death is always forgotten, bar the spiritually beached memorials….


    by Joseph Dawson

    Shallow light and “shackled night.”
    Life as an affair to regret or an affair to forget.
    Or simply not get at all.
    A darkly entrancing stanza of poetry that I have just read for the first time.
    Seems perfect in itself AND as a prelude to the next piece….



    When thinking what to write for this book (it is a very rare event for me since the year 2000 to submit anything to any book!), I needed to think, now, towards the end of my life, about something I had never before thought about the sea. That it was no longer there at all? A metaphor for death? Egaeus – Aegean – Age, word association, age as a dereliction of my duty to self, sea and others? So I still plug in, plug on with these book reviews – towards a single sort of re-view. Finally, hopefully, to get it, to get the gestalt, not to regret it, nor to forget it. God as a Got. A gestalt as a tidal loop back to the beginning, thus in turn for something or other of a preternatural nature to have a way of getting ME? But eventually the planet itself will forget us all, with not even one regret. All in hindsight. Not sure this work even says all this, but I do try, today, actually to get it at last … even if it means reviewing myself!
    At least by being accepted by this book, I got a contributor’s copy, while normally I have bought all the books I want to read and review.

  21. THE WOMAN FROM MALTA by George Berguño

    “I used to tell my students that death may come for them in the form of a beautiful young person.”

    A work-strained professor takes a cottage in the Faroes. A woman supposedly from Malta in a hut-cum-lighthouse is his nearest neighbour. A sort of life-changing, gradually trawled vision of those who come for you in the night, here, divers divers accompanied by humming. An empty dinghy. There is an element of flotsam or jetsam reclaimed by the sea in human form, but in a state of some grace, darling. Hopefully without derelicting my duty with a spoiler, the professor’s eventual catharsis (similar to my concept of ‘wifely wifi’?) is himself in such a state of numinous, nemonymous grace. Am altar, as it were. But nobody could spoil this work. “You promised!”

    My previous reviews of George Berguño:‘the-exorcists-travelogue’-by-george-berguno/‘the-sons-of-ishmael-by-george-berguno/

  22. THE LIGHTHOUSE by Richard Sheppard

    “If only those fools back at University had possessed the good sense to die before meeting me, I’m sure we would have got along a lot better.”

    That got as God again? This is, indeed, what I was just warned or promised it is. Attrition by cynicism and bitter submission to a fable’s worst possible moral. A new hero for literature as a hot-headed, shaved and shorn symbol of life’s bad luck and surly unsociability as a literal chancer, leaving University with books in his hand but reputation under a cloud, seeking to be a lighthouse keeper off Anglesey, where the men, who helped him get to this shack of whale oil lit light, a shack like the previous story’s hut-lighthouse, talked Welsh. Huw is our hero’s sole companion for dual solitude? Whatever his name, this companion is accident prone to this story’s bodily bloodiness and leaves our cynical hero cast away alone now amid a tiny handful of minor typos but with a prose style otherwise to die for. In an age where one can’t electronically communicate beyond where one actually is. Not even by the actual means of cruelly dousing the lighthouse light’s virtue signalling towards the potentially distressed — a moral dilemma we live through with our hero. Even the joke of the hue of Huw falls delightfully flat, as we realise that our hero had once hoped to edify this his co-lighthouse keeper with books but now with that companion Huw dead (with blank social graces to suit our hero’s overproud cast of mind) the corpse itself does not need mental fodder any more but provides, in its own turn of altruism, a selfless corpse gas – for our hero to cook what? I loved this attrition; it makes this book even more treasurable as a keepsake Bible of the Sea for life’s every future journey dire or dreadless. It already seems beautifully stained by something more than just seasoned usage.

  23. My previous review of Steven Pirie:
    And he once appeared in Nemonymous.


    “I shivered though the evening air was still warm.”

    Appropriately, this evening, just before reading this, I went for a walk with my wife by the sea. A heat wave is currently embedded upon the whole of the UK. But we both shivered in the east coast breeze. On the other hand, it was intrinsically warm, too. A weird feeling that was subsequently echoed by this story. A relatively brief story that is a perfect coda for this highly treasurable book. Neither upbeat or downbeat. Artfully couched. A real poignant treat. A stoically human sacrifiction.

    “‘We take from the sea, we give to the sea,’ the old man said simply.”


    I’m tantamount to an old man now, but I was once someone younger who wrote DOWN TO THE BOOTS, another relatively brief story about a stoical woman by the sea, now shown here as arguably an extra gift for those who have taken the trouble to read my real-time review and have hopefully appreciated it.

    I think I have already said everything I need to say about the stories in this book. The book itself as an object is also something really special — solid enough to sink, yet strangely able to float upon the stream of consciousness, pungently seasoned, found-art stylish, honestly traditional, with an added sense of stoicism and nostalgia.


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