Paperbacks: Sea Stories: New Writing from the National Maritime Museum
Wish Her Safe at Home
Aller Retour New York, By Henry Miller
The Private Lives of the Impressionists
Nobody's Home, By Dubravka Ugresic


Sea Stories: New Writing from the National Maritime Museum (NMM £7.99)

This wonderful collection of new short stories inspired by the sea contains many surprises. Lovers of maritime writing will find it no surprise, though, to see Sam Llewellyn, an experienced sailor, included. His strong political views on the fishing industry are skilfully presented in "The Shoals", a story compelling not just for the bitter slice of history it serves up but for the extraordinary way that he invokes the all-consuming power of the sea. Growing up in Norfolk at the end of the 19th century, Alexander Rourke soon makes himself as unpopular as his father, the local gamekeeper. While other boys are happy to fish with a simple rod and line, Alexander finds it more effective to use a net – the same net his father accidentally drowns in. When his mother dies, Alexander buys a boat with stolen money and eventually invests in a trawler that catches so many fish in its vast nets that the traditional ways of fishing become impossible. As Alexander grows wealthier the Norfolk fishermen are left with the choice of either working on his fleet or going to the workhouse.

Roger Hubank's "The Island" tells of a young woman returning to the small fishing community where she grew up, to accompany her father on his annual pilgrimage to her mother's grave. A story about how easily people can become trapped by the past – or perhaps why the past can seem so attractive when your life is tied to something as unpredictable and overpowering as the sea – it includes some beautiful descriptions of Orkney seascapes.

What makes this collection so special, though, is the inclusion of work by such unorthodox writers as Niall Griffiths. His nightmarish "Bathyspheres" tells of a terrible descent to the depths of the ocean: "I thought I'd never stop sinking. Had an image of myself, a tiny dot in a blackness so big that it couldn't be measured. Like one star in space."

Wish Her Safe at Home, By Stephen Benatar (Welbeck Modern Classics £7.99)

When Rachel Waring, "dull, diffident... middle aged", inherits a large house full of antique furniture from her reclusive great-aunt Alicia, she decides she simply has to go and live there. This strikes the reader as a curious decision, as Alicia had spent her last days there with the body of her maid, Bridget, who'd killed herself. In the months leading up to Bridget's death, neighbours regularly reported hearing screams from both old women, who appeared to be senile. Rachel, however, seems effervescently happy.

Given the choice between what she calls the "glooms" – dark reflections on her sad, unfulfilled life – and carrying on regardless, Rachel decides to do the latter, tumbling into madness. As a young girl she retreated into a private world with fictional friends taken from novels; as a woman she believes she has many lovers, including a dead philanthropist and her vicar.

Originally published in 1982 this horrifying exploration of madness at least deserves to be called a cult classic.

Aller Retour New York, By Henry Miller (Hesperus £8.99)

When Henry Miller returned to New York from his adopted home, Paris, in 1935 he wrote about the journey for one of his friends. Reprinted more than 70 years later, his account still has the power to offend – which would probably have delighted him.

In between the blustering misogyny ("Women are better off in the countries where they are supposedly mistreated") and racial swipes of the kind common to much pre-war American literature ("All these movie houses were once good theatres; now they are filled with chinks, wops, polkas, litvaks, mocks, croats, finns") there are, however, some arresting moments. During his voyage he remarks on how the ship's captain entertains society women on the poop deck while keeping an eye on his crew through his opera glasses. Contemplating flying, "that obsession for the air which seems to have the Americans by the balls", he talks about moving into a mystic dimension where the passion for speed ends. Standing at a cigar store he meets a circus animal trainer called Will Self.

The Private Lives of the Impressionists, By Sue Roe (Vintage £9.99)

The idea of artists as lonely figures quietly starving in depressing garrets still has some currency. Roe's meticulously researched account of what the French impressionist painters went through shows where a large part of that idea stems from; although canvases by these artists sell for millions of pounds today, their work was ignored or mocked when first shown.

Of course this isn't exactly news and, although Pissarro's time in England (living in suburban Norwood), Degas's obsession with the underdogs of Parisian life, and Renoir's struggles as a penniless artist are covered in detail, it's the broader sweep of history Roe captures, from the siege of Paris to the first impressionist adventures abroad, that is impressive.

When the work was first exhibited by Paul and Charles Durand-Ruel in New York in 1886, there was "none of the ferocious uproar the impressionists had initially aroused in their own country. The luxurious rooms in Madison Square were quiet, as viewers looked thoughtfully at paintings... which represented two and a half decades of dedication and struggle."

Nobody's Home, By Dubravka Ugresic (Telegram £9.99)

Ugresic is Croatian, although she has lived in self-imposed exile since taking issue with Croatia's late president, Franjo Tudjman, in the early 1990s. This collection of her essays glitters with witty and profound observations on modern Europe.

"What Is European about European Literature?" she asks, before arriving at her conclusions by way of some sparkling asides on the Eurovision song contest. Winners of awards such as the Man Booker Prize behave, she suggests, remarkably like kitsch pop stars.

Elsewhere she declares: "Cities are like coats... The relationship between a coat and its owner is a personal one; the same can be said of the relationship between a city and its inhabitants"; and that, while Eastern Europe is becoming modernised, Western Europe is growing increasingly Sovietised. A genuinely free-thinker, Ugresic's attachment to absurdity leads her down paths where other writers fear to tread. How rewarding a reader finds these wanderings depends to an extent on his or her ability to digest the entire book as a whole.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

music
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Arts and Entertainment
'Girl with a Pearl Earring' by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1665
artWhat is it about the period that so enthrals novelists?
Arts and Entertainment
Into the woods: The Merry Wives of Windsor at Petersfield
theatreOpen-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Arts and Entertainment
James singer Tim Booth
latitude 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Lee says: 'I never, ever set out to offend, but it can be an accidental by-product'
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe judges were wowed by the actress' individual cooking style
Arts and Entertainment
Nicholas says that he still feels lucky to be able to do what he loves, but that there is much about being in a band he hates
musicThere is much about being in a band that he hates, but his debut album is suffused with regret
Arts and Entertainment
The singer, who herself is openly bisexual, praised the 19-year-old sportsman before launching into a tirade about the upcoming Winter Olympics

books
Arts and Entertainment
music
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Cryer and Ashton Kutcher in the eleventh season of Two and a Half Men

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

    A land of the outright bizarre
    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
    Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

    The worst kept secret in cinema

    A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
    Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
    Why do we have blood types?

    Are you my type?

    All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
    Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

    Honesty box hotels

    Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

    Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

    The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
    Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

    The 'scroungers’ fight back

    The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
    Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

    Fireballs in space

    Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
    A Bible for billionaires

    A Bible for billionaires

    Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
    Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

    Paranoid parenting is on the rise

    And our children are suffering because of it
    For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

    Magna Carta Island goes on sale

    Yours for a cool £4m
    Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn