The sea inside by Philip Hoare
It’s as though Philip Hoare read W.G.Sebold’s inimitable Rings of Saturn and thought – “I can do that”. Sadly, he couldn’t. This is ostensibly Philip Hoare sets out to rediscover the sea, its islands, birds and beasts – and the way we see them…..More than anything it is the story of the sea inside us all. So an interesting premise and it starts out well with Hoare discussing swimming in seas with frozen spume and how the sea has shaped his home, Southampton, but with some digressions along the way.
By the time I was in chapter 2 it became obvious that the sea was but a jumping off point for Hoare to ramble about any subject that fell into his head at any time, all mushed together. OK if they were all tangential to the sea perhaps, but to this reader the sea became ever more irrelevant to his, well if it’s the majority of the text it can’t really be called digression can it?
Chapter 2 has quite a lot of information about Ravens (and digressions on other Corvids) which, whilst diverting, didn’t have anything to do with the topic at hand as far as I could see, until many pages later he introduces the fact, which he means to tie everything together, that they mostly now live in a few islands off the coast of Britain. But this is offered in a throwaway line leaving me wondering what his point was.. He then goes off on a discussion about saints and the desert fathers for some pages so he can introduce a biography of Saint Cuthbert just so he can discuss the birds most associated with him and the fact he lived on an island.
In chapter 3 I hoped he’d get back to the point but he was in London and started talking about John Hunter, the zoologist who started the Hunterian museum. After dropping in a horrific account of the killing of an elephant he eventually comes to the point to say that in Hunter’s time London was a whaling port and Hunter spent some time dissecting whales, it takes him about 20 pages to get to that point though and it is merely a stepping stone for him to spend a further 15 pages describing in morbid detail the dissection of a porpoise he watches at a zoo. Then that chapter ended and the next opened with him in the Azores whale watching, so OK he’s finally back to the sea, but by now my patience has pretty much run out. I start to flick ahead but eventually I just can’t take any more of his analogy heavy text. Once I realise I am avoiding picking it up and reading it I decide that life is too short and abandon it in preference of the next book on the TBR.
Overall – Incoherent, some interesting stuff but far too jumbled together
Johannes Cabal: The detective by Jonathan L Howard
Although this is the second in the series I think you could probably read it out of order without too much being spoiled, still it is worth reading the first one. We start the book in the company of Cabal as he is in prison awaiting execution for stealing a necromantic book in the small state of Mirkavia. When the rulers of Mirkavia decide to use his necromantic skills this starts a series of events that sees Cabal on a kind of murder on the Orient express with airships. There is a bit of a tonal change between the first and second books but Howard’s trademark wit and clever prose is here still, in spades. There’s a whole host of new characters and Cabal, although feeling occasional twinges of a feeling he struggles to identify (his conscience), is his usual sarcastic master of understatement. I enjoyed the first book very much, this one cemented my love for the series and I’ll be getting to the third book very soon. As a bonus there is an afterword that includes a 30 odd page short story set after the events of the book, this was also very enjoyable. Howard is a local author and I was lucky enough to be at a reading he gave in November in which he introduced the forthcoming 4th Johannes Cabal book which can be found here: http://bristolcon.podbean.com/ along with other local writers doing readings.
Overall – Johannes Cabal is a marvellous protagonist and it is a pleasure to spend time in his company.