Jump to content
KEV67

Best seafaring books

Recommended Posts

I have read:

  • Moby Dick (Herman Melville)
  • The Master and Commander series 1..20 (Patrick O' Brian)
  • The Old Man and the Sea (Ernest Hemingway)
  • Lord Jim (Joseph Conrad)
  • The Heart of Darkness (Joseph Conrad)
  • The N****r of Narcissus (Joseph Conrad)
  • HMS Ulysses (Alistair MacLean)
  • The Horatio Hornblower series 1..6 (C.S. Forester)
  • The Sea Wolf (Jack London)
  • Robinson Crusoe (Daniel Defoe)

 

I still have a few Hornblower books to read. So far I think Moby Dick's the best. Are there any other good ones?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Maybe I'm just very tired but I can't see where you've posted the thread before? 

 

I haven't read this yet but I'm very excited for Stuart Turton's The Devil and the Dark Water!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
7 minutes ago, Hayley said:

 

Maybe I'm just very tired but I can't see where you've posted the thread before? 

 

 

I was puzzling over that one as well!

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I just posted it as seafaring books before.

I like seafaring books. If they have a failing is that they tend to be a bit female light. Moby Dick is the best.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Half a King (Shattered Sea, Book 1 of 3) by Joe Abercrombie was excellent for me. Especially as there were many good (and feisty) female characters. :)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I've listened to a lot of Hornblower on audiobook because my boyfriend was listening to it but, for that reason, I can't actually say which ones I've listened to. I did like it though, I really like Hornblower as a character. I've also listened to some of the Thomas Kydd series by Julian Stockwin and thought it was good. It has a lot of similarities to Hornblower but I don't like Kydd quite as much as a character. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

English Passengers by Matthew Kneale

(Goodreads blurb)
In 1857 when Captain Illiam Quillian Kewley and his band of rum smugglers from the Isle of Man have most of their contraband confiscated by British Customs, they are forced to put their ship up for charter. The only takers are two eccentric Englishmen who want to embark for the other side of the globe. The Reverend Geoffrey Wilson believes the Garden of Eden was on the island of Tasmania. His traveling partner, Dr. Thomas Potter, unbeknownst to Wilson, is developing a sinister thesis about the races of men. 

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I would almost consider Persuasion by Jane Austen a seafaring book. Alright, I wouldn't really, but it is the most naval of her books. It is like when Captain Jack Aubrey is back on shore leave and trying to negotiate his romantic, domestic and financial difficulties, but written from Sophie's point of view. I think Jane Austen had two brothers in the Royal Navy and one ended up Admiral of the Fleet.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Other seafaring books I have read include Robinson Crusoe, Kidnapped, possibly Nostromo, but I don not really consider them seafaring. The best bits of Robinson Crusoe are when he is stuck on the island. The best bits of Kidnapped are when David Balfour and  Alan Breck are trying to get from West Scotland to East Scotland without getting captured by the red coats. Nostromo has a little bit of seafaring, but it is mainly about politics in an unstable South American country. I am not even sure Heart of Darkness is seafaring, because the main events take place on a river.

 

Other seafaring books I would like to get to eventually:

  • Treasure Island (Robert Louis Stevenson)
  • The Riddle of the Sands (Erskine Childers)
  • The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea (Yukio Mishima)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 02/06/2021 at 1:18 PM, Marie H said:

English Passengers by Matthew Kneale

(Goodreads blurb)
In 1857 when Captain Illiam Quillian Kewley and his band of rum smugglers from the Isle of Man have most of their contraband confiscated by British Customs, they are forced to put their ship up for charter. The only takers are two eccentric Englishmen who want to embark for the other side of the globe. The Reverend Geoffrey Wilson believes the Garden of Eden was on the island of Tasmania. His traveling partner, Dr. Thomas Potter, unbeknownst to Wilson, is developing a sinister thesis about the races of men. 

 

This sounds like an interesting one! 

 

6 hours ago, KEV67 said:

Treasure Island (Robert Louis Stevenson)

I used to have an illustrated version of this many years ago. I'd like to re-read it actually! 

 

I thought of a couple more: Jamrach's Menagerie (set in the 1850's again, mainly set on a ship bound for the East Indies where they're to pick up animals for a famous menagerie). Also Batavia's Graveyard (a true story from the seventeenth century about a mutinous crew and ship that gets stuck on a coral reef). Both are really quite sad though, just to warn everyone! 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
17 hours ago, Hayley said:

 Jamrach's Menagerie (set in the 1850's again, mainly set on a ship bound for the East Indies where they're to pick up animals for a famous menagerie). 

On my TRB list :)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Star of The Sea by Joseph O'Connor, about a shipload of Irish people heading for America, one is an assassin, the other his intended victim.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Is there a genre that covers both sea and river sailing? I cannot think of one. I want to move Huckleberry Finn to the seafaring shelf in bookshop staff challenge thread, but a river is not a sea. Maritime means sea. Nautical pertains to the sea. Boating would exclude ships. Sailing would not be accurate for Huckleberry Finn; drifting would be more accurate.

 

Edit: Wikipedia says maritime pertains to any sort of water transport.

 

There are several great river stories: Huckleberry Finn, Heart of Darkness, Three Men in a Boat, Wind and the Willows and Death on the Nile. However, I have not read Death on the Nile and I never managed to finish Wind in the Willows. Something about the book puts me off.

 

I read that The Odyssey counts as seafaring, as does Sinbad the Sailor. Thing is I am not sure how good the sailing is in those books. Joseph Conrad and Herman Melville were both sailors. Jack London was a sailor for a while. I don't think C.S. Forester was, but he spent a lot of time reading back issues of the Naval Gazette.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 08/06/2021 at 3:56 PM, KEV67 said:

 

Edit: Wikipedia says maritime pertains to any sort of water transport

That’s interesting! I definitely would have associated ‘maritime’ exclusively with the sea. 
 

There’s a Jack Vance (science fiction) book that’s set on boats called Showboat World. And also one that’s set on a planet that’s entirely covered by water called The Blue World. I suppose they would be a form of maritime by that definition. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 10/06/2021 at 11:25 PM, Hayley said:

That’s interesting! I definitely would have associated ‘maritime’ exclusively with the sea. 
 

There’s a Jack Vance (science fiction) book that’s set on boats called Showboat World. And also one that’s set on a planet that’s entirely covered by water called The Blue World. I suppose they would be a form of maritime by that definition. 

 

It looks like only Wikipedia thinks the word 'maritime' covers fresh water transport. All other definitions I have read say maritime is to do with the sea. That is a disappointment.

 

I recently finished Flying Colours by C.S. Forester, the seventh in the Horatio Hornblower series, depending how you number them. Plotwise I did not think it was as strong as the others, but emotionally it was. It was all building up to the ending, and I was thinking, given Hornblower's exemplary conduct, how can this not be recognised by his superiors? The ending would have to be contrived or unrealistic, but if the ending's what you think it is than where's the drama? For decades I was put off Hornblower, thinking he was like Biggles on the sea.

 

I have started reading The Shadow Line by Joseph Conrad, even after I swore off reading him, because he is so miserable. It is supposed to be his best seafaring tale. I am hoping it will get me out of my bookshelf challenge fix, because I still like N***** of Narcissus more than Heart of Darkness, Lord Jim, The Old Man and the Sea or The Sea Wolf.

 

I also bought The Riddle of the Sands, but it will take me a while to get around to that.

Edited by KEV67

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

This problem of thinking of a suitable term to cover both sea and river stories is still taking up too much of my cerebral bandwidth. When it comes to crime there are lots of subgenres, true crime, cosy crime, hard boiled, even tartan noir to cover Scottish crime fiction. Science fiction has subgenres such as dystopia, first encounter, space opera. Why isn't there a term to cover both fresh and salt water sailing? Nautical, maritime or seafaring covers quite different types of sailing. There are books like the Odyssey and Life of Pi, which are myth and fantasy and not much to do with sailing. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, is science fiction, but it is also set on a submarine. A lot of nautical books are set in the age of sail, but there are also books like Das Boot, HMS Ulysses and The Cruel Sea that are set in metal ships in the Second World War. All these are covered by the terms nautical, maritime or seafaring, but not Huck Finn because that takes place on a river. I thought about 'sailing', but Huck Finn and Jim seem to more drift.

 

Regarding Joseph Conrad's unwisely titled book, called Children of the Sea in America. I would not say it was a racist book. Nevertheless, quite a number of these sailing books are controversial regarding race. Heart of Darkness was famously criticised for being racist by Chinua Achebe. I had trouble seeing it. I think Achebe thought it was racist, because Africa was used as a metaphor for evil, otherness, primitiveness, etc. Huck Finn does not shy away from tackling race issues, but it does give the American education system a problem because it uses the word ****** over 100 times. Moby Dick has a surprisingly multi-racial crew. I think it was difficult to find good harpoon throwers, so they recruited talent when they found it. Their ship, The Pequod, was named after a Native American tribe that was wiped out. Robinson Crusoe is controversial over Man Friday and the cannibals and everything. I thought the strangest thing was his attitude to slavery. He was on a mission to buy slaves when he was shipwrecked. He spent ages wondering why God was punishing him, and concluded that it was because he disobeyed his father.

 

Also: Deliverance is reputedly another great river story, although overshadowed by the film. Very different from Three Men in a Boat.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Alexander Kents 'Richard Bolitho' series are similar to the Hornblower and Jack Aubrey ones, you may like them. Then the older books by Captain Marryat may interest you, as might the CS Forester stuff, mostly maritime and incuding the well known 'The African Queen'. And if you like gentle humour, set onboard a small Glasgow 'Puffer' try 'The Para Handy' tales, three volumes complete! (a favourite of mine which I have re-read many times!)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 18/06/2021 at 2:22 PM, timebug said:

Alexander Kents 'Richard Bolitho' series are similar to the Hornblower and Jack Aubrey ones, you may like them. Then the older books by Captain Marryat may interest you, as might the CS Forester stuff, mostly maritime and incuding the well known 'The African Queen'. And if you like gentle humour, set onboard a small Glasgow 'Puffer' try 'The Para Handy' tales, three volumes complete! (a favourite of mine which I have re-read many times!)

 

I looked up Richard Botitho. To me he looks like he may be a bit too similar. One thing I like about seafaring books is that they are quite different to each other, especially when written by ex-sailors. It is partly why I liked The Sea Wolf by Jack London, despite its unpleasantness. Jack London worked on a seal hunting ship, so he knew what he was writing about. Herman Melville worked on a whaler. Joseph Conrad was a sailor. He captained a boat up the Congo once. C.S. Forester was different. He seemed to get most his information from the Naval Gazette. The Patrick O' Brian books covered similar ground but the Captain Aubrey and Stephen Maturin pairing made the books fairly different to Hornblower.

 

I was wondering whether any modern writer would dare write a book about a slaver. There was Robinson Crusoe, but Daniel Defoe was not a sailor, I don't think. Then I remembered there was one Flashman book (George MacDonald Fraser) set largely on a slave ship. I think it was Flash for Freedom. It had a great character called John Charity Spring, who was the captain of the slave ship.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

One reason why you might find Hornblower/Aubrey/Bolitho etc all a bit samey is because their authors have read the same memoires and biographies for research, Cochrane in particular. I think every one of those fictional captains has an encounter where he takes one or two much larger ships by sailing into attack and at the critical point calling below decks for the soldiers to come up and board. Thinking they are about to be overwhelmed the enemy surrenders. There are no soldiers. That was one of the first of Cochrane's noteworthy exploits when he was still only about 22. Edward Pellew is another whose adventures are often borrowed by fictional sailors.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I've heard of Cochrane. Hornblower mentions him. How did he get to be a captain by 22? He must have had some influential friends. I read a bit about the naval exploits of Jane Austen's brothers. One in particular got up to some capers. However, I think the majority of the Royal Navy was mostly occupied with blockading France, which was very, very boring.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

×