on 17 June 2007
Seven-tenths is a bookshop's nightmare of a book. Where to place a book which describes maps, islands, love, loss, death and passion - in poet's language?
Taking our complex relationship with the sea as the starting point, this book is a philosophical meditation on the sea as physical birthplace of our race and the emotional abyss of our dreams. Moving between aspects of science, cartography, biography, poetry and philosophy, this book is, unsurprisingly, difficult to define or describe. It is simply outstanding. The language is hauntingly beautiful, even when describing exactly what happens to a human body during and after a burial at sea, as it sinks through miles of water.
James Hamilton-Paterson has an unflinching gaze coupled with a poet's exactitude. If my house were burning and I could save only one book from the multitudes, this would be it.
The book: the Earth is 70 % water, and so are our bodies. With an insatiable appetite for facts and a real love of his subject, Hamilton-Patterson gives us his book of the sea, and the human/sea interface - where the problems are, the myths, the lack of knowledge; remote and personal islands, Pearl Harbour's wrecks, seamount surveys, the need for pre-atomic metal, the cucumber solution, the feeling of free-diving at night... which bits of drowned people get eaten first, epibenthic sledging, calenture... a treasury of information, coupled to a thoughtful review of the state of the Oceans, leading inexorably to a bitter conclusion - but with H-P's joy and wonder at the seas' beauty intact.
My opinion: full of detailed observations or snippets, and still forming a coherent whole; like swimming among reefs, where "details must be noted but never seen in isolation". At times bitter and cynical, but always elegant, provoking and fascinating. "Objets trouvés should be marvelled at, then allowed to become perdus at once. Only thus can the transient pleasure of crossed trajectories be sustained in the memory." "The mode of travel determines the place reached." "what one finds never finds the cavity which the search hollows out." Don't think it is all philosophical, it ranges from the earthy to the exciting, from the bitter to the melancholy, and often poetic.
A beautiful book.