I’ve mentioned before on this blog that I love the sea. My love for the ocean is reflected not only in my writing but also in my reading tastes. Today, I thought I would share some of my favourite beach books, seaside stories and tales about the ocean.
In their tiny, sea-beaten cottage on the north coast of Scotland, Liska and Ruth await the birth of their first child […] Ruth tells her stories when Liska is at work, to a background of shrieking seabirds; Liska tells hers when Ruth is asleep, with the lighthouse sweeping its steady beam through the window. Goodreads
This is a gorgeous short story collection with a touching framing device. Two mums-to-be, whisper stories to their unborn baby in secret from one another. These fairy-tale-inspired stories about werewolves, witches and broken-toothed dragons are vivid, distinctive and, like the best fairytales, rooted in real human emotions and motives.
The whole collection echoes hauntingly with the sounds of the sea and there is a wonderful tension between the domestic warmth of the new family and the uncertain wilderness of the ocean right outside their door.
This post-colonial retelling of Jane Eyre follows Antoinette before she becomes Bertha, the madwoman in the attic. Idealised ideas of Caribbean island life are subverted, Rochester’s perspective is explored and Jean Rhys’ prose is like nothing else. The Sargasso Sea represents a gulf between nations, a fraught space where people are displaced and danger lurks.
Short story collections with the sea as their central theme/image just seem to work, don’t they? This beautiful collection is set in Cornwall and inspired by Cornish folklore. Elements of the strange and the magical leak into the characters’ everyday lives and, like A Portable Shelter, the everyday and the mythical are balanced beautifully. It’s been a few years since I read this one yet the atmosphere of the moorlands and the coastal landscapes have stayed with me ever since.
This short classic read narrates the awakening of Edna, a middle-class Creole woman, who gradually gains consciousness about the patriarchy she lives in and begins to detach herself from the structures that oppress her.
In The Awakening, the sea is a no-man’s-land, a place of peaceful solitude and sensual bliss. It is central to Edna’s journey and the passages that describe what the sea means to this character are stunning. Out of all these beach books, the seaside is particularly crucial to the narrative in this one.
Oops, another Kirsty Logan book. Set in a parallel universe where the sea level has risen dramatically above the land, the novel follows North, a circus performer, who performs with a bear, and Callanish, an outsider in exile who lays people to rest on the ocean. Gradually, their lives become intertwined.
Inspired by Scottish myths and fairytales, this novel is cosy, original and perfect for the colder months. The descriptions of the circus are gorgeous and the scenes set at sea are enchanting. The world of The Gracekeepers feels wonderfully detached from contemporary life and the wilderness of the ocean complements this feeling beautifully.
I couldn’t not include a dystopian book. This brief novella begins in near-future London, where an unnamed woman is giving birth to her first baby. Whilst she is in hospital, London is flooded and her home becomes uninhabitable. The new family struggle to survive in this sudden eco-dystopia.
Written in a poetic, impressionistic and minimalistic prose style, The End We Start From explores the poetry of motherhood, trauma and survival in the face of ecological disaster. The sea is ever-present throughout the story and permeates the language, images and the characters’ thoughts. A stunning read.
This young adult novel starts with the eighteen-year-old protagonist, Cadence, recounting summers spent with her cousins on Beechwood Island. But something has changed. There has been a tragic accident that nobody can speak of and the mystery surrounding what happened that has changed the family irreversible fuels the story.
The whimsical, poetic style that draws inspiration from fairy tales* is so gorgeous to read and the sun-drenched island setting is both a place of possibility as well as uneasy claustrophobia.
Hopefully, this blog has been inspiring for those who, like me, love to read about the sea. And, even if large bodies of water aren’t your thing, I hope some of these recommendations appeal to you anyway.
Please leave your own beachy/ sea-themed recommendations in the comments below.
Books in the above photograph:
A Portable Shelter by Kirsty Logan
Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
Waterland by Graham Swift (to be read)
Diving Belles by Lucy Wood
Measures of Expatriation by Vahni Capildeo (currently reading and enjoying)
*folklore/ fairytales seem to go hand-in-hand with beach books/ seaside short story collections
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