Top Five Saturday: Books Set On The Sea

The Top 5 series is back! Top Five Saturday is a meme hosted by Devouring Books to discover and share books that all have a common theme. Previously on the blog I have focused on witches, werewolves, thrillers, faeries, fairy tale re-tellings, high fantasy and many more. I am going to try and bring this series back for every Saturday.


9th May 2020: Books with Numbers in the Title

16th May 2020: Debut Novels

23rd May 2020: Books About Plants and Flowers

30th May 2020: Books from a Male Point of View

The sea.

There is something wonderfully evocative and enticing and terrifying about the sea… and I say this as someone who lives by the sea – or at least no more than 20 minutes from it, and those 20 minutes feel very distant considering that previously I was literally a three minute walk from it! I promise that I will not cite Moby-Dick too much in this post (how is it possible not to) but I love the image in Chapter One of crowds of humanity drawn to the sea:

But look! here come more crowds, pacing straight for the water, and seemingly bound for a dive. Strange! Nothing will content them but the extremest limit of the land; loitering under the shady lee of yonder warehouses will not suffice. No. They must get just as nigh the water as they possibly can without falling in. And there they stand—miles of them—leagues. Inlanders all, they come from lanes and alleys, streets and avenues—north, east, south, and west. Yet here they all unite. Tell me, does the magnetic virtue of the needles of the compasses of all those ships attract them thither?…

There is magic in it.

The ocean in literature carries echoes of the feminine and the sensual – it is from the sea, after all, that Venus emerges in so many sculptures – and its tides are linked to the moon and through her, menstruation and fertility and sexuality.

At the same time, the sea is an image of chaos, and terror birthing krakens, leviathons and serpents… a serpentine chaos (or perhaps kaos?) upon which, in the beginning, when God created the heaven and the earth

And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.

And returning to Moby-Dick, there is the awful moment when Pip falls from the boat and is left adrift in the middle of the ocean, the ocean which

had leeringly kept his finite body up, but drowned the infinite of his soul. Not drowned entirely, though. Rather carried down alive to wondrous depths, where strange shapes of the unwarped primal world glided to and fro before his passive eyes; and the miser-merman, Wisdom, revealed his hoarded heaps; and among the joyous, heartless, ever-juvenile eternities, Pip saw the multitudinous, God-omnipresent, coral insects, that out of the firmament of waters heaved the colossal orbs. He saw God’s foot upon the treadle of the loom, and spoke it; and therefore his shipmates called him mad.

Anyway, back to the list, looking for books that present the sea as this chaotic chthonic primal infinity…

The Mercies, Kiran Millward Hargrave

From the opening lines of Maren’s dream of the whale beaching itself, to the storm that kills all the men, the sea is a vivid character in its own right in this wonderful novel.

“And then the sea rises up and the sky swings down and greenish lightning slings itself across everything, flashing the black into an instantaneous, terrible brightness… And there is no sound save the sea and the sky and all the boat lights swallowed and the boats flashing and the boats spinning, the boats flying, turning, gone.”

And The Ocean Was Our Sky, Patrick Ness

Okay, so I said I wouldn’t include Moby-Dick but Ness’s inverted re-telling is so wonderful!

“Call me Bathsheba.” 

The whales of Bathsheba’s pod live for the hunt. Led by the formidable Captain Alexandra, they fight a never-ending war against men. Then the whales attack a man ship, and instead of easy prey they find the trail of a myth, a monster, perhaps the devil himself… “

Life of Pi, Yann Martel

One boy, one boat, one tiger . . .

After the tragic sinking of a cargo ship, a solitary lifeboat remains bobbing on the wild, blue Pacific. The only survivors from the wreck are a sixteen-year-old boy named Pi, a hyena, a zebra (with a broken leg), a female orang-utan – and a 450-pound Royal Bengal tiger. The scene is set for one of the most extraordinary and best-loved works of fiction in recent years.

The Scar, China Miéville

The monstrous flotilla of Armada crewed by pirates and vampires, cactacae and Remade criminals would be cause enough to read this book… but the avanc… oh the avanc!

Tanner feels vibrations against his skin and then, harder, inside him.

The thing is moving, way below the dying fringes of sunlight, in the midnight water miles down, past lantern fish and spider crabs, eclipsing their feeble phosphorescence. He feels it creeping nearer, displacing great gouts of cold water and sending them rolling up and out of the abyss in uncanny tides.

It is a faint, regular beat that he feels in his innards. A ponderous, smashing stroke. His stomach pitches.

He hears it only for an instant, a quirk of space and thaumaturgy, but he knows what it is, and the knowledge stuns him.

It is a heart the size of a cathedral, beating far below him in the dark.

Deeplight, Frances Hardinge

They say that the ocean around the Myriad has its own madness. Sailors tell of great whirlpools that swallow boats, and of reeking, ice-cold jets that bubble to the surface and stop the hearts of swimmers. Black clouds suddenly boil into existence amid flawless skies.

They say that there is a dark realm of nightmares that lies beneath the true sea. When the Undersea arches its back, the upper sea is stirred into frenzy.

They say that the Undersea was the dwelling place of the gods.

They say many things of the Myriad, and all of them are true.


13th June 2020: Books with One Word Titles

20th June 2020: Books You’d Give a Second Chance To

27th June 2020:  Books with Morally Grey Characters

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