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I'm in two minds about 'Submergence'. It is rich in imagery and ideas, and filled with sumptuous description, but I found it frustratingly incoherent. Broken up into small sections, some only a paragraph long, it ruminates on love, faith and existence. It marries science and philosophy, terrorism and exploration, but I found there was little to drive me to read on. Each section was interesting in isolation, but if I'd lost the book halfway through I would not have felt a desperate need to find out what happened to the novel's two protagonists.

The two central characters are spy and scientist. They meet in a French hotel, and are instantly attracted. Forced by circumstance they go their separate ways. One will be captured by terrorists, the other will travel into the depths of the ocean.

The narrative timeline is all over the place. Danny's (female scientist) is more or less linear but James's moves back in forth in time. The novel opens with his being held hostage, before returning to the two meeting in France. As James' captivity lengthens, his thoughts and recollections become more erratic and philosophical, which adds to the lack of coherence.

The descriptions though are incredible, and the thoughts and emotions portrayed intense. The sections set in the French hotel are so evocative, you can see the rooms, taste the food, and feel the cold. So real and wonderful did this hotel seem, I searched for it on the Internet. Sadly, I'm not sure it exists.

The two stories on the surface have little in common. One is about exploration and the excitement of discovery, the other a horrible tale of abuse and mistreatment. Yet Ledgard teases out similarities. Somalia is in the fertile crescent, the ocean bed contains the building blocks for life. Both places could be considered as the cradle of civilisation, which in turn lead Danny and James to ruminate on the existence of God.

Both characters find themselves in environments devoid of light, literal or figurative. These dark places, where angels fear to tread, are given further texture by references to early Utopian fiction. The layering of themes and ideas in this book is very impressive. James' predicament highlights that there are many unexplored forgotten backwaters, even on dry land. Hell does not have to be submerged, it can be a place on Earth.

Submergence examines humankind's need to explore, but how it is in our nature to look upwards to the heavens. Exploration beneath the sea is not glamourous nor heralded by mankind, despite it being as hostile as outer space. The benefits of exploring the deep may far outweigh travelling to Mars, but Danny's underwater exploration fails to capture the public's imagination.

The more I consider 'Submergence' the more I appreciate its hidden depths. Despite its brevity, it is a multilayered and textured read, the meaning of which goes well beyond simple words on a page. I imagine it would make an interesting book group choice as there are many themes and ambiguities to discuss. Whilst I didn't particularly enjoy reading it, the lack of coherence making it hard to retain interest, 'Submeregnce' is a powerful novel about the state of the world and the importance of hope. I am glad I persevered.
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on 13 November 2011
LOVED IT, absolutely tore through it, it's a gripping NOW story, that gives incredible insight, detail, and colour into each area it touches, including jihadist fighters, a 'real' spy, kidnapping, captivity, marine biology, biomathematics, & deep sea trenches. It yanks you along at a great pace, stylistically extremely refreshing, interspersed with super interesting facts and segues, the writer flips from section to section but in a totally fluid way - Eddie Van Halen springs to mind, you will see what I mean by that comment when you read it. A truly original piece of work, an absolute pleasure. I finished the book a richer person. BUY IT!!
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on 26 October 2011
"Wrongly beautiful, like a scan of a damaged brain": a city seen at night in this strange, wonderful novel, which is full of arresting images and startling thoughts. It made me think of that thing we used to do as children, writing our address as "name, street, town, England, Europe, the world, the universe"--that sense of individuals existing in an expanding circle of place, but also, in this book, of time--today, the noughties, the modern era, etc. This novel will haunt you. I can see why some people have compared Ledgard's writing to TS Eliot's.
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on 26 December 2011
Having read Legards extraordinary first novel, Giraffe, I was greatly looking forward to his second. Far from disappointing, Submergence is written with an intelligence and emotional warmth which surpasses the earlier book. Part love story, part hostage drama, this book takes the reader to places both uncomfortable and moving. I read it on one sitting, and found myself wanting to start it again from the beginning.
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on 29 November 2011
Beautifully written with wonderful complexity, Submergence is the sort of book that the Booker used to be about before they dumbed it down. The switching between different time points adds another dimension to the story and allows the author to draw parallels between the action of the 2 protagonists. It is a book which needs concentration but it deserves it. Highly recommended.
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on 9 October 2011
This is an extraordinary and fascinating book to read. It is hard to put down but, when you finish, you feel you want to read it again, and again. A coherent reaction to it will take me weeks of reflection. Two professionals who explore the depths in different elements come together by chance. The writing is beautiful and terrifying. Love story or thriller? Unnervingly topical, too.
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on 21 June 2013
This beautifully written book exposes the different worlds embedded beneath the surface of the one we are living in: worlds of science, art, luxury, horror, war etc.

It feels impressively up to date in the parts on the war on terror, and paints what we can only assume is a very accurate picture of the desperate situation on the Horn of Africa at present.

The other two main story strands -- one set in a French hotel, the other on the Greenland Sea -- while nice to read are almost too much of a pleasure: the hotel sequence relentlessly invites us into vicarious luxury, while there's a bit of an "Ain't it cool" strand to the deep sea facts spouted during the books time on the Greenland Sea.

Likewise, the book's two main characters are a little bit "too cool for school", almost straying into romantic fiction territory: a British ,strong silent former-soldier-current-spy, and a Eurotrash-y voluptuous, hyper-intelligent, oceanographer.

All in all though, the book's strengths outweigh its weaknesses. The prose style alone makes it worth the read.
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on 14 November 2011
it's a wonderful book. commits what for me is normally the cardinal sin of moving between different plotlines, but here it works because the writers does it so elegantly and you're so interested in them all and they're so marvellously connnected. unlike other reviewers here, i couldn't read this quickly. i found some of the passages so moving and disturbing that i couldn't hurry on. also the writing is so dense. dense in the very positive sense that it carries a lot, is always elegant and doesn't take short cuts.
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on 7 July 2013
A thought provoking exploration of what it is to be human told through the stories of the desert and the ocean deep with threads of the literature of Hell and the Abyss woven throughout
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on 26 December 2015
SUBMERGENCE [By J M Ledgard]. This guy lives in South Africa but was born in Scotland. Not American, anyway. It has good reviews on Amazon generally . . . can’t remember now who recommended it . . . it’s okay. I am not being hyper-critical today; it’s okay. Wilfully obscure which is always a turn-off for me it is written as two parallel stories of two people who meet briefly at a hotel in France and try to conduct a relationship across many impossible miles of land, sea and situation. She is a marine biologist working out of Woods Hole in the USA, he is a British spy who has been captured by jihadists in Somalia.
Sound fascinating? Interesting then? What about challenging?
I didn’t really care about him, or her. She is a complete contrivance of someone’s erotic fantasy[dusky, sexy, brainy, impossibly self-sufficient]. He is semi-realistic and in fact his character is based upon a French spy who really was captured by Somali resistance fighters around the middle of 2012 and dragged around the desert from hell-hole to hell-hole.
Just not sure what the point is. I did finish it and there are a lot of words about the state of civilisation in the early 21stC which are sort-of interesting but I can get all that in a more palatable form from In Our Time on Thursday morning, so I wasn’t riveted. I read today that they are turning it into a film with James McAvoy, the X-Men actor. Good luck with that.
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