"Of all national assets, archives are the most precious:
they are the gift of one generation to another,
and the extent of our care of them marks the
extent of our civilization." Arthur Doughty.

About Us

My photo
San Juan Islands, Washington State, United States
A society formed in 2009 for the purpose of collecting, preserving, celebrating, and disseminating the maritime history of the San Juan Islands and northern Puget Sound area. Check this log for tales from out-of-print publications as well as from members and friends. There are circa 500, often long entries, on a broad range of maritime topics; there are search aids at the bottom of the log. Please ask for permission to use any photo posted on this site. Thank you.

19 October 2015

❖ BOOK REVIEW ❖ THE SEA INSIDE

Allison Hart Lengyel
September 2015
The Sea Inside
Philip Hoare, The Sea Inside
(Brooklyn: Melville House Publishing, 2014)

The sea defines us, connects us, separates us. Most of us experience only its edges, our available wilderness on a crowded island—it’s why we call our coastal towns ‘resorts,’ despite their air of decay” (Hoare, p. 7).

Philip Hoare is the pen name of Patrick Moore, perhaps best known in England for producing the Moby Dick Big Read, an ambitious online audiobook of all 135 chapters of Melville’s classic, delivered by, among others, Tilda Swinton, David Attenborough, and David Cameron. Hoare is also the author of seven works of nonfiction, including a book previously reviewed in this forum, The Whale: In Search of the Giants of the Sea (New York: Ecco Press, 2010).
  The Sea Inside was published in the United States in 2014. It’s a far-ranging memoir, travelogue, philosophical inquiry, and cultural history. Above all, it’s about our relationship to the sea and the shore, with particular emphasis on our long and troubled relationship with cetaceans (particularly sperm whales, blue whales, humpback whales, orcas, dolphins, and porpoises) that continue to roam the world’s oceans despite centuries of exploitation, pollution, habitat destruction, and hunting. It’s also about Hoare’s encounters with scientists who study cetaceans, and with the human outcasts and recluses who live along the shore and make their living there—fishermen, poets, artists, monks, and other travelers. Everywhere Hoare goes—and he visits the Azores, Sri Lanka, Australia, New Zealand, Tasmania, Nova Scotia, Southern Maine, and Southern England in the course of this book—he gets into the ocean and swims. He swims for exercise every day when he’s at home in Sholing, South Hampton; he swims with dolphins and whales in the open sea, from the Indian Ocean, to the South Pacific, to the north Atlantic. “When you swim in the sea you see it as the cosmos floating all around you. We are ghosts, invaders in a way…” (21 June 2013, theguardian.com). 
Hoare begins his story with a walk through the house where he grew up, in Sholing. “In the years since I have come back to it, the house has grown to become part of me, even as it is falling apart. … Back home, I walk around the house in the dark. I know its rooms as well as I know my own body. I catch myself in the mirror on the landing, hung so that my mother could check her make-up before coming downstairs, her necklace in place, just as my father always wore a tie. Now I look in it and wonder who I am” (Hoare, p. 3 and p. 36). He takes the reader on a tour of the house and of the countryside where he grew up, building his story outward and back in time, from present-day oil refineries in Sholing to his childhood before they existed, all the way back to the history of Roman occupation and the pagan “druidical stones” (round stones with a hole bored through the center), thought to protect people and cattle alike from misfortune or sickness. 
      After the walk through his home and environs, he continues on a walk about his home shores, I think, to demonstrate how the sea is part of our collective past. Familial structures, community, and interdependence are something we share with cetaceans. In subsequent chapters, Hoare roams farther and farther away from England relating stories of natural and human drama as they take place near the sea or in it. Hoare’s book is packed full of details, bits of scientific knowledge, lore, mythology, and history. His observations, often supplemented with scientific data, are also lovingly appreciative. For example, the Humpback whale, up to 50 tons and 50’ long, is a “barnacled angel” that loves to leap out of the water in a graceful arc. While the Sperm whale—which can dive one mile down and stay down for up to two hours—doesn’t “show off” like the Humpback. When it breaches in preparation to dive, it leaps nearly straight up and down. Regardless of style, whales all exhale residual water and spent air from their blow holes and then load their blood with oxygen by taking one or more nearly full tidal breaths —marine mammals’ tidal volume is typically greater than 75% of total lung capacity, compared to the typical terrestrial mammal for whom the typical volume of air inhaled and exhaled in one breath is in the range of 10-15% of TLC. Dolphins have the largest brains, relative to body size, in nature; it’s only logical that such an intelligent animal uses tools, communicates with other communities over a great distance, and has an abstract sense of itself as an individual. Dolphins and sperm whales are both intensely collective, with matrilineal societies. From his close encounter swimming alongside a sperm whale, Hoare reports that “the eye of a whale is absolute sentience” (“Philip Hoare at 5X15,” vimeo.com/68573306). 
      You or I might say The Sea Inside is about encounters with cetaceans around the world. But according to Hoare himself, The Sea Inside is essentially about “the sense of what is home.” He begins the story at home, and he ends the story at home, finally clearing out his late mother’s room six years after her death. “All the things I imagined as a child, all the things I feared; they’re not at the end of the world, and they’re not here, either. I close my notebook and put it on the shelf, along with all the others. There’s no such place as home. And we live there, you and me” (Hoare, p. 340). Perhaps his point is that the ocean is the world for cetaceans and the ocean is our world and our home, too. We are more similar than dissimilar and any separation we perceive is artificial. 
Submitted  by the author to the Saltwater People HIstorical Society Log, SJC, September 2015.

Book search here.

      Although rarely seen in the inland waters of San Juan County, a fin whale—second largest species of whale after the blue whale—recently appeared just off San Juan Island, behaving normally and feeding on krill. A report from the Whale Museum of Friday Harbor can be viewed here.
To read other book reviews and articles written by Allison Hart Lengyel, for Saltwater People, please enter her name in the "search this blog" window at the bottom of the Saltwater People Log home page.






No comments:

Post a Comment

Archived Log Entries