17 January 2019, The Tablet

Total immersion: Salt on Your Tongue: Women and the Sea, by Charlotte Runcie

Total immersion: Salt on Your Tongue: Women and the Sea, by Charlotte Runcie

A woman mends fishing nets on her boat in Shenzhen, south China
Photo: PA/Sipa USA/Xinhua, Mao Siqian


Salt On Your Tongue: Women and the Sea
(CANONGATE, 384 PP, £14.99)
Tablet Bookshop price £13.49 • tel 020 7799 4064

When I was asked to review this book, I replied that I’d love to, but oughtn’t it to be reviewed by a woman? I’m glad that the books editor disagreed. I feel that Salt On Your Tongue, part nature writing, part literary anthology, part personal memoir, has shown me our relationship with the sea in a new light.

The sea, Charlotte Runcie argues, has always belonged to men. Men go in the boats, catch the fish, meet the monsters, negotiate the storms, find the treasures, and drown. Women, on the other hand, must stay on the shore and wait. No surprises then that, as the author sails effortlessly and enjoyably through our sea-related literature, the texts are all by men about men. From that cornerstone of our culture, Homer’s Odyssey, in which Odysseus and his mates take 10 years to sail home, Runcie passes through Anglo-Saxon classics such as Beowulf and The Seafarer, across whose alliterative pages an elderly sailor drifts, lost, to the voyage of St Brendan in which he and 16 monks set sail to search for the Garden of Eden.

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