The sea defines us, connects us, separates us


The world is full of wonders and mysteries, cruelties and colourful characters, and occasional flashes of enlightenment, as Philip Hoare’s book reminds us. Chief among the enigmas are other people. Until that moment, I’d thought the whale unfathomable. A half-fabled creature, emerging from the deep in a holiday resort. But that woman was now the greater puzzle. What was going on in her head? Hoare’s previous book, Leviathan, was a lengthy and engrossing disquisition on whales, whale lore, whale hunting and humanity’s abrupt volte-face about these creatures. He was also co-curator of the Moby Dick Big Read, an online extravaganza which involved all 135 chapters of Melville’s book being read, a chapter a day, by people as different as Stephen Fry, Tilda Swinton, even David Cameron, as well as ordinary folk. The Sea Inside is most at ease when, again, he is in the company of whales. Companionable and entertaining, the book follows the recent fashion for combining memoir, travelogue, historical byways, natural history and lore. This can suggest a hoarder’s fear that something might be left out. Or perhaps it’s a bid to escape categories in favour of an appropriate fluidity.

more from Kathleen Jamie at the LRB here.