Nature Writing The Sea Inside by Philip Hoare | Reviews | The Omnivore

Published on June 12th, 2013


The Sea Inside by Philip Hoare

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Blurb: The sea surrounds us. It gives us life, provides us with the air we breathe and the food we eat. It is ceaseless change and constant presence. It covers two-thirds of our planet. Yet caught up in our everyday lives, we barely notice it. In ‘The Sea Inside’, Philip Hoare sets out to rediscover the sea, its islands, birds and beasts.

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He begins on the south coast where he grew up, a place of almost monastic escape. From there he travels to the other side of the world – the Azores, Sri Lanka, New Zealand – in search of encounters with animals and people. Navigating between human and natural history, he asks what these stories mean for us now. Along the way we meet an amazing cast; from scientists to tattooed warriors; from ravens to whales and bizarre creatures that may, or may not, be extinct. Part memoir, part fantastical travelogue, ‘The Sea Inside’ takes us on an astounding journey of discovery (Fourth Estate)

Rachel Campbell-Johnston, The Times

“Hoare has wonderful, almost child-like relish for colourful stories and incredible facts. That is why he can write a book that can encompass anything from a paean of praise to the wheatear to the only known photograph of God. His passionate engagement will infect you. As you close this book, you will probably feel as ecstatic as the author does after one of his cold morning dips.”

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Ian Critchley, The Sunday Times 

“This enthralling book exhibits Hoare’s talent both for writing about nature and for bringing to life the human dramas played out over centuries on or beside the sea.”

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Craig Brown, Mail on Sunday 

“Occasionally one is left a little dazed and bedazzled by all this kaleidoscopic maze, wondering quite how Hoare ever got from there to here: personally, I suspect he once went swimming with red herrings. On the other hand, everything he writes is remarkably interesting, and always expressed in his singular prose, at the one and the same time both exact and numinous.”

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Caspar Henderson, The Guardian

The Sea Inside also describes artistic and literary figures, scientists and adventurers whose lives have left traces in the spots that Hoare visits on his quest … These and other digressions will engage different readers to different extents. Especially interesting to me are those circling the lives of a Northumbrian saint, a Tasmanian princess and a Maori warrior.”

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Bella Bathurst, The Observer

“His is a profound and lyrical love affair but it does have its disconcerting moments: “There’s something sexual about whales,” he writes at one point. ‘Sleek, sensual and untouchable, they are the ultimate tease. It is that which draws you on.” Oh well, each to his own, even if it does sound a bit Catherine the Great. But when coupled with the admission that “Winter is a lonely season. That’s why I like it. It’s easier to be alone,” it does make you wonder if Hoare hasn’t forgotten something else about the sea: its inexorable attraction for misanthropes.”

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Ian Thomson, London Evening Standard

“The literary travelogue — with elements of history, anthropology, personal experience and quest — is a tricky genre. In the absence of a conventional plot, the challenge is to create a forward momentum, something that WG Sebald (a clear influence on Hoare) was notably skilled at doing. Sections of The Sea Inside are in narrative disarray, with long drawn-out digressions on sperm whales and porpoise species that go nowhere in particular. At times the prose out-purples Walter Pater … Beneath the flim-flam, however, is an unusual work, in which thoughts on our aquatic origins (man’s “vestigially webbed fingers”) blend with lyrical rhapsodies to the ocean and the whale’s domain.”

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Andrew Greig, Literary Review 

“The blurb claims it is ‘part memoir, part fantastical travelogue’, but it is scarcely either. The unifying topic may be the sea in history, culture, biology and imagination, but it reads as patchy and sketchy, never fully engaging with its massive, ever-shifting subject … It feels like leftover material from Leviathan, bundled together with bits of travelogue, many researched curiosities, and hints about Hoare’s personal circumstances.”

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