By Jonathan Raban in 1986
Jonathan Raban is one of my personal discoveries in 2016. The year when I started my sea search. I bought his Passage to Juneau: A Sea and its Meanings (1999) and was thrown in a brilliant text full of good humor and in a unique voyage where Raban himself sails the Gulf of Alaska and tells a story of its cultures and histories. I also have The Oxford Book of the Sea (1992) – wonderful anthology of sea literature edited by Raban. He truly is a sea guy.
Jonathan Raban has written many books and I want to collect and read them all, because he writes so damn well. Coasting (1986) is a brand new addition to my sea library. I also bought Bad Land: an American Romance (1996) although it’s not about the sea, so here I will highlight the Coasting – travelogue of sailing the coast of his native Great Britain.
“Coasting is half travel book, half autobiography, half novel (never mind the arithmetic) marvellously written and superbly constructed,” wrote Beryl Bainbridge in a review in the 80s for Spectator. “The author’s intention was surely to sail through time and place, to chart the coast-line of his own past, to take soundings of his future while bobbling around the edges of Britain.”
From the second chapter In the Archipelago:
“The voyage turned into the usual epic-pastoral-tragical-comical-historical-amorous and lonely story – of innocence lost, ritual tests and trials, the holy terrors, funny interludes, romances caught on the wing, lightning-strikes of wisdom and dim longueurs. It yielded calms, storms, sunsets, fogs, mirrored landscapes, welcoming ports glistering in the twilight under auroras of blown gulls, enormous skies, waves green in jade: all the set pieces in the marine painter’s repertoire.”
And sums it all up even better after a couple of paragraphs:
“I got drunk in Torquay, had a fit of memoirs in Portsmouth, turned lyrical in Brighton and philosophical off Beachy Head, was affronted in Dover, ill in Harwick, happy in Grimsby, maudlin in Bridlington, was pleased with myself on Holy Island, got drunk again in Leith, was superior in Iverness, fell in love in Oban and out of love by Stranraer, was at my wits’ end in Dublin, said some very clever things in Fishguard, lost my temper off Land’s End and summed things up pretty neatly in Falmouth. The End.”
“Sharp… funny… a marvellous attempt to discover the meaning of home,” wrote Ian Jack in a review for Observer. Knowing how much I enjoyed my time reading Passage to Juneau, I think I will have many really great evenings with Coasting too.
Beryl Bainbridge in the review for Spectator writes : “It’s the sort of book you put among those favorite books you keep on your desk or on your table, the ones you pick up over again to re-read with undiminished pleasure, the sort you wish you’d written yourself.”