Monday, October 30, 2006

When I grow up I want to be, One of the harvesters of the sea

There are certain authors who become characters in their own books, so much so that your enjoyment of the book may hinge on how much they personally attract or repel you. Obvious example include David Sedaris, Hunter S Thompson and P.J. O'Rourke. Essayists and travel writers are particularly prone to placing the author's personality out front. There are exceptions of course, like Rory Stewart, who is barely discernable in his own books.

Redmond O'Hanlon sits squarely in the author as character category. And he is quite the character. He reminded me of Truman Capote (as depicted in the film) endlessly holding forth, at cocktail parties at least. Like Capote, O'Hanlon could be perceived as a blowhard who just won't shut up, but what he has to say is, in fact, interesting and he is just self-deprecating enough to fall on the good side of the interesting/annoying line.

His book, Trawler, is ostensibly about a life aboard a North Sea fishing boat, in the dead of winter. O'Hanlon hitches a ride with a marine biologist. I thought the interplay between O'Hanlon and the scientist was the most fun part of the book. The enthusiasms of each lead to fascinating conversations. These conversations, though, are supposedly captured from long sleepless hours, gutting fish, in a boat moving violently in all directions. This deflates the credibility of the book's exactitude at least.

This isn't the sort of book where you learn a lot about anything, aside from Redmond O'Hanlon. It's the sort of book where you learn a little about deep sea life, fishing conditions, the Shetland and Orkney islands, Sparta, alpha males, biology, marine biology and so on. If you enjoy a sampling of interesting topics told by an eccentric, then you may well enjoy it. I did.

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