Our book of the month, The Ship by Antonia Honeywell, carries on a great tradition of stories set (or partly set!) at sea. Inspired by this, we’ve picked out three unforgettable ships (and two boats!) from literature. Let us know at @CBBookGroup if you can think of any that we’ve missed, we know there’s a few!
The Demeter, Dracula by Bram Stoker (1897)
The newspaper articles that report the shipwreck of the Demeter, the hapless Russian schooner that brought Dracula from Transylvania to the shores of Whitby, describe one of the most harrowing scenes of Bram Stoker’s horror novel. The portrayal of the dead ship’s captain lashed to the wheel, and the recounting of the captain’s log that follows, give readers several of the most powerful and frightful scenes in literature – responsible for keeping at least one of the @CBBookGroup team awake all night!
In a story familiar to many from pre-school, the Ark is built by Noah to save his family and, famously, two each of all the world’s animals from the onset of a great global flood. One of several ancient flood myths, (find out more in Irving Finkel’s The Ark Before Noah), the Genesis story encapsulates the idea that a great ship can offer both safety and hope at a time of great disaster – a theme also explored in Antonia Honeywell’s novel.
When the Tsimtsum sinks, the sole survivor, Piscine Molitor ‘Pi’ Patel, takes refuge aboard one of the stricken freighter’s lifeboats. Accompanied by a hyena, an injured zebra, and an orangutan, the lifeboat is at first an uneasy refuge, but as hunger sets in and a surprise stowaway reveals himself (no spoilers!) Pi’s remarkable sea voyage becomes ever more perilous. One of the great shipwreck narratives, Yann Martel’s novel has been a reading group favourite since publication in 2001 and inspired one of the most visually stunning films of recent years.
Herman Melville’s Moby Dick is rich with stories of life at sea and the Pequod, the doomed whaling ship of the vengeful Captain Ahab, is symbolic of humanity’s fragility against the great natural power of the ocean. The novel’s climactic encounter, as Ahab chases down a final encounter with the famous white whale, makes for heart-quickening reading and reflects the fears of sailors at a time when sea travel was frequently treacherous.
Boat, The Starboard Sea by Amber Dermont (2013)
“Sailing is the art of asking questions,” we’re told in this gorgeous novel. The Starboard Sea is set in an elite boarding school in New England, right on the coast, in 1987. Jason, our troubled protagonist, has a deep love of sailing (and this book has some of the most beautiful passages of writing about sailing that you’ll read anywhere) – of being on the open sea, and taking part in competitions. But sailing has let him down. Being aboard a boat resulted in a tragedy that he is struggling to get over. And that is what this book is about. Grounded, as it were, in sailing, this book is one to read for the visceral sensation of being aboard a boat.