Friday's book: Granta 61: The Sea: (Granta, pounds 7.99)

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Though a middling swell on the crossing between Bideford and Lundy Island once prompted me to feel that death would be a welcome release, I still like to see myself as a bit of a tar. I guess I'm not alone in being the sort of salty dog whose closest link with the briny is Body Shop Seaweed Shower Gel. As a treat for all armchair mariners, the estimable Granta has finally tackled the wine-dark sea. The magazine has hauled up an excellent and exotic trawl from the depths.

Orhan Pamuk muses on how his Istanbul boyhood was enlivened by a series of spectacular disasters on the Bosphorus: "We all cling to the memory of old catastrophes with dewy eyes." So frequently did drunken drivers pitch their cars into the Golden Horn that newspapers occasionally printed tips on how to extricate oneself: "If the vehicle continues to descend, put on the handbrake." Will Hobson offers a Boy's Own Paper round-up of fascinating oceanic facts: "A blue whale's blood vessels are so broad that a full-grown trout could swim through them." The poet William Scammell offers a flashback to his days as a photographer on board the Cunard Queens: "You could tell at a glance whether they [the female passengers] were still human or had mutated into walking assets."

Not that the simple seaside pleasures of "Kiss Me Quick" have been forgotten in this collection of oceanic flotsam. A double-page photograph is devoted to a stately pair of gents, well-smitten in years and not wearing a stitch of clothing, engaged in a spot of fellatio at the pier near New York's infamous Christopher Street in 1997. But the most outstanding piece is "Sea Burial", a fabulously eerie experience recounted by the pelagic obsessional James Hamilton Paterson. Travelling on a rickety fishing vessel in the Far East, he recalls encountering the body of fisherman sitting bolt upright in a rowing boat: "There, in the early evening light amid the shattered debris of clouds, he sat and exhaled the gases of his corporeal breakdown."

Paterson's hallucinogenic narrative, which brings to mind both Coleridge and Borges, drifts on to the experiences of Glusto Forbici, a Italian Crusoe shipwrecked eight times between 1842 and 1867. His most trying experience occurred when he found himself on a lonely coral crescent in the Far East. At first, he believed himself to be well provisioned, since eight carboys of fresh water had washed up with him. But they turned out to contain cuttlefish-ink destined for bureaucrats in Batavia. He drank nothing else for three months, producing "occasional sooty turds full of carbon".

Judging by the after-effects of an extremely murky plateful of seppie in nero I recently consumed in Venice, I can vouch that this symptom is no exaggeration. Granta is worth buying for Paterson's piece alone, but every page swirls with maritime wonders.

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