4.5 out of 5 stars

A copy of this was provided free of charge from the publisher in return for an honest review.

Following on from his journey down the great Mississippi, Jonathan Raban decided to explore his homeland from the see. He acquired a small boat and filled it with personal effects and a lot of books, some relevant to his research and some just for the pleasure of having them nearby. He set off in 1982 to see if we were still a nation that loved the sea.

His journey would be back through the pages of our history, a semi nostalgic look back at his own childhood and a contemporary take on the state of our nation under the rule of Thatcher in the early 1980’s and the effect that the outbreak of war with Argentina over the Falklands Islands would have on our outlook as a people. However, this was all a backdrop to the seascapes that he travels through, the looking cliffs, fast races and eddy’s, sandbanks and other much larger boats that would challenge him every day of the journey.

He has a slightly tense meeting with Paul Theroux in Brighton who is heading around the UK in the opposite direction and also in the process of writing his book, The Kingdom by the Sea. Raban joins the miners on the picket lines to see what real political action is like and takes the views from the locals on their opinions of the Falklands War. There is often a vast gulf between the rabid right-wing press and their attitude to the war and the indifference of the general populace.

I didn’t think this was quite as good as Old Glory, but I don’t think it is as easy for an author to understand their home country as sometimes it is for an outsider to do. That said, it was written just as the country had begun an enormous political change, was at war and in the middle of a enormous strike by the miners. This means that he could easily see the differences and splits that were very visible in society at large. There is something about Raban’s writing that is beguiling and very readable too, he is a stickler for the details that he drops into the narrative when meeting people like Philip Larkin or talking to the owners of trawlers in Lyme Regis but also has that ability to present you the seascape; you sense the rock of the boat and the wind on your cheek as you bob along with him, in sparse lyrical prose.

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