To commercial fishing people, a good fishing novel is a rare treat to be traded from boat to boat and read in the long hours at sea or increasingly in the all too many days tied up and waiting for an opening. Over the years, in my travels I have, occasionally come upon one of these treasures in translation from other lands. It was reading Marcel Barang’s English translation of Atsiri Thammachoat’’s Thai original “Of Time and Tide” that I picked up in a Bangkok bookstore, that prompted me to make this web page. The book made me aware how similar are the concerns, particularly in the most recent novels, of fishing communities around the world. Several novels speak to the over capitalization of the fleets that has forced surviving fishermen to work on corporate boats and travel ever further from home. Another theme is the sharp rise in the cost of waterfront property as the tourist industry crowds the beaches offering low-paying service jobs to once independent fishing people.
One of the challenges of a good fishing novel it to make the life and the technology of the fishing boat available to the general reader without insulting the knowledgeable reader. I think that each of the books here, most of which were written by people with onboard experience, meets that criterion. I invite comments on any of these titles, especially from people who have been or are currently involved in the particular fishery. If I can get short critics on novels by such knowledgeable fishermen I would like to post them with the books.
I have several more titles on my shelf that I will add when time allows. I look forward to seeing this page grow and invite submissions and suggestions for other novels that might belong here. For now I want to limit the page to novels only and look forward to hearing from you at email@example.com
Fishing Novels in My Library
Chasing Davy Jones
It is 1977 and the 200-mle Fisheries Conservation Zone law has just passed. In New England everyone sees dollar bill jumping out of the ocean and all the hustlers, sharks, conmen and schemers are loose in the industry. Jim Hunt wants the bigger boat. Basil Banyon wants to reclaim earlier glories before his family lost their fleet to the Canadians in the 1950s. Walt Pesco just wants to make a decent living as a hired skipper and now he's working for Banyon. One October day Hunt's little 44-foot tub trawler Peapod collides with Banyon's Billow, skippered by Pesco, and Peapod sinks. Hunt wants his insurance money in a hurry, Banyon is afraid his company will be blamed and Pesoc fears he may lose his license. At the Fish Expo in Boston in October Hunt and Banyon confront each other.
Far Tortuga is a stunning book that not only warrants but rewards many re-readings. It rates with those seminal works like Hemmingway's "The Old Man and the Sea". that express the crux of the human condition. It is not ethnography, or oceanography or technology or ecology but from close observation it creates all those perspectives with sparse, almost poetic writing that cuts with the precision of salt spray. An old boat in the Caribbean and a motley crew of hardened experienced seafarers and local reprobates with their own patois. The book runs the gamut of emotion with insight as penetrating as the splinters of old timber. Make of it what you will, it puts you there. On the boat, among the crew, the islands, the cays and the seascape. Matthiesssen was a fisherman for awhile.
Mattanza: love and death in the sea of Sicily
by Theresa Maggio Perseus Publishing Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2000. From: Jacket notes: "Theresa Maggio brings us inside the secretive world of the tonnara—the ritual trapping and killing of bluefin enacted by fishermen since the stone age. Every spring, these majestic bluefinhave passed through the Strait of Gibraltar to spawn in the Mediterranean. And there, every year for generations, men have waited for them. "Part memoir, part natural history, and part travelogue, Mattanza is a romantic tale of one woman's journey into another world"... The book recounts the biology, the oceanography, history, ritual, economics and politics of Sicilian fishermen and Northern Bluefin tuna in an island community and the world market.
Winner of the American Book prize, John Casey’s novel follows a fisherman attempting to finish a monumentally crafted backyard boat while maintaining a decking job, a family, a love affair. Spartina is the salt marsh grass that grows on the border between the land, the stream and the sea. It is both the name of the new boat and the metaphor of the fisherman’s life on the margins. In his dust jacket comment, George Garrett says that the novel, "... has, in abundance, all the virtues of our finest fiction – a superbly realized sense of place, an impeccable eye for detail and the rhythm and textures of dailiness, unforgettable characters who are fine-tuned for surprises and contradictions, events, acutely rendered, which matter, and a large pattern, alive with possibilities. Spartina is a major work by a major novelist."
Royce, Royce, the People's Choice
The cover states, Royce Rowland is a 17-year-old sexual and social reprobate who has been sent to sea with a tough skipper in an effort to straighten him out. But as with everything, Royce goes on board with his own interests at heart: he wants to trawl (line actually) for the fabled giant squid. He does catch something unexpected, but it isn't squid, and in its wake comes a conning prostitute who is determined to make off with it. And so Royce embarks on a Odyssean journey pursuing his catch through New Zealand waters and on to Japan. En route, he is to discover true love - for fish... The author grew up in Westport, one of New Zealand's more rugged fishing communities. He's and insider and has lived the life, worked at sea and tracked the journey of his protagonist. Westport was one of the ports and bluefin one of the species we fished during the relatively brief time I worked as a deckie in the early 80s. I was an outsider and a novice but the story rings true.
The story of Dan Morgan, who has bought his first salmon troller and, with his friend and deckhand, must learn the fishing grounds and earn himself a place in the community of fishermen. Written just after World War II, the novel is critical of Canada’s internment of her fishermen of Japanese descent and explores other emerging issues in the fishery. Re-issued in 2000 by Harbour Publishing, this novel is credited by many contemporary commercial fishing as having been their motivation to become fishermen. Roderick Haig-Brown (1908-1976) immigrated to Canada in 1928 and spent several years fishing and trapping with the Lansdowne family on northern Vancouver Island before settling to a life of writing at Campbell River on the same island.