The Ocean

I heard James Bradley on the ABC Book Show last night talking about his editing of a new book, The Penguin Book of the Ocean, featuring writing from people like Charles Darwin, Elizabeth Bishop, David Malouf and Tim Winton among others.

I’m not usually much of a fan of these theme-based collections (book of the beach, book of towns etc) because I don’t like reading what are usually extracts from longer pieces, of whole novels, out of context. I think it works for a collection of self-contained short stories about a theme, but that’s about it.

But, in the interview Bradley did talk about what he closed the collection with, which was the final scene from David Malouf’s novel Fly Away Peter, where the woman in grief sees a strange image of the future, a surfer skittering across the face of a wave. It’s a beautiful moment and, despite the complexities of some of the ideas, I’ve always enjoyed teaching that novel to Year 12 students over the years. It’s not a novel that’s much about the sea at all really; it would fit just as well into The Penguin Book of the Sky, if one was ever to exist! But that moment was worth remembering, and made me reach for the book from the shelf and look at it again.

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