Spellbound by monsters of the deep

From The Guardian:

Leviathan Philip Hoare began his writing career as the biographer of Stephen Tennant and Noël Coward. More recently, his work has turned into something harder to categorise: amazing feats of history and imagination that take you to places within yourself – never mind the places he is actually describing – that you did not even know existed. Leviathan or, The Whale is one of these feats and it is as elusive a beast as the great, unknowable creature that is its inspiration. It begins as memoir, then moves deftly through biography, literary criticism, social history and, finally, nature writing, in a muscular freestyle so compelling and all-encompassing that it cast a spell on me that endured for days after I had done turning its beautifully illustrated pages. Hoare has long been acclaimed as a brilliantly unconventional writer; WG Sebald was among his most devoted fans. This is the book he was born to write, a classic of its kind.

If you are going to write a book that deals, in large part, with the literary monolith that is Moby-Dick, then you had better be sure to have a good first sentence; Melville’s three little words – ‘Call me Ishmael’ – are so unsurpassably resonant they might have come from the Old Testament. Hoare knows this well – he cannot get the book out of his system (‘Every time I read it, it is as if I am reading it for the first time’) – and he has conjured a pretty good first sentence himself: ‘Perhaps it is because I was nearly born under water.’ Hoare grew up in Southampton. In the days before his birth, his parents visited Portsmouth’s dockyard, where they were taken on a tour of a submarine. As she climbed into its belly, his mother began to feel labour pains.

More here. (Note: For me, Moby Dick arguably remains the best book of American fiction).

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