- REBECCA. Daphne Du Maurier (1938)
Where: Cornwall, UK.
The Ultimate coastal novel, Rebecca will hypnotise you and leave you reeling afterwards. This unforgettable story evokes the coast of Cornwall so vividly, rendering it as a wild, beautiful, untameable and ultimately, a place of terrifying, almost supernatural power. Manderley, ancestral seat of the ominous De Winters, is inspired by Du Maurier’s stays in the Cornish country house, Menabilly. The nearby beach, Polridmouth Cove, inspired the beach in the novel where Rebecca’s summerhouse is located. If you’ve read the book, you’ll know them before you visit!
2. EVIL UNDER THE SUN. Agatha Christie (1941)
Where: Devon, UK.
Delicious, devilish fun. The glamourous and flirtacious Arlena is found strangled on the beach at Pixy Cove. The evidence shows Arlena had planned a secret rendevous there, but with who? Quintissential British seaside meets sex, drugs, smuggling, violence and voodoo is this Agatha Christie belter. Exploring the caves, beaches and coastline of Devon leads Hercule Poirot to the answer.
3. EARTHSEA QUARTET. Ursula K. Le Guin (1968-2001)
Where: Earthsea, Fantasy world.
Le Guin’s well-known coastal fantasy series is still hugely underrated in my opinion. The Earthsea archipelago is a fascinating alternate world of interconnecting islands. It reflects the patriarchy of our world, where only men are permitted to train as wizards and hone their craft, though this world begins to change before the series is over. Epic journeys, dragons, wizards who control the wind called ‘wind-keys’, the ever-presence of the sea along with beautiful, sparse, skillful writing: children and adults alike will love this one.
4. THE SILVER DARLINGS. Neil M. Gunn (1941)
Where: Scottish Highlands, UK.
Set on the wild coast of the Scottish Highlands, Gunn’s writing evokes a strong feeling of atmosphere that truly transports you into the lives of the characters in this epic. The village is emptying: many have emigrated to Nova Scotia and many have drowned. All have departed for the same reason: poverty. When the ‘silver darlings’ (herring) arrive in their droves, the chance of riches is brought to Finn’s deprived fishing village. Riches which in turn could offer escape from the threat and danger wrought by the Highland clearances. A thrilling, poetic and satisfying read that truly transports you to the sea.
5. THE ISLAND OF SEA WOMEN. Lisa See (2019)
Where: Island of Jeju, South Korea.
The sea women of Jeju, the haenyeo, are the breadwinners of their families. Each day, they leave their children with their husbands and head to the sea to dive. This is a story of the human body tested to its limits, of survival and adaptation. Not only are the sea women sought out by scientists who want to study their superhuman resistance to hyperthermia, Lee’s novel also explores the other struggles that have impacted the women’s bodies: the Japanese and American occupations, the horrors of the Korean Civil war, as well as the trials and tribulations of womanhood, female friendship and family.
6. NIGHT WAKING. Sarah Moss (2011)
Where: Outer Hebrides, Scotland, UK.
Set on the real-life island of St. Kilda, which has been unpopulated since the 1930s, this dark and brooding novel reveals the brutal reality of isolated, coastal living. The population dwindled as the island’s women miscarried with alarming frequency. Some saw this as a sign from God, however, as Moss’ protagonist uncovers, the were other (equally sinister) causes. If you can find a way to get past the slighly obnoxious, painfully middle-class characters, this haunting novel will stick with you and have you doing your own research on the side.
7. THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA. Ernest Hemingway (1952)
This impactful 100 page classic tells has a fable-like quality as Hemingway tells a simple story with real beauty. Numerous critics and readers alike have seen the characters, ocean setting and story as having deeper, symbolic meaning but Hemingway was having none of it…
8. MY FAMILY AND OTHER ANIMALS. Gerald Durrell (1956)
Where: Corfu, Greece.
Sunshine on a page. A delightful, feel-good novel to put a smile on anyone’s face. Detailing the eccentric upbringing of the famed naturalist, Gerald Durrell, where his widowed mother decided she’d had enough of England and headed off, relatively penniless, with four children in tow to the Greek island of Corfu. This brilliantly bonkers family will have you chuckling out loud as Durrell’s idyllic childhood gets you feeling all warm and fuzzy inside.
9. WIDE SARGASSO SEA. Jean Rhys (1966)
Where: Jamaica and Dominica.
This is another novel where the lush beauty of the coast is rendered excessive, unpredictable and frightening. Rhys’ writes the story as a prequel to Bronte’s ‘Jane Eyre’, giving us an insight of the life of Antoinette ‘Bertha’ Cosway, Mr Rochester’s first wife, who in ‘Jane Eyre” is locked away in the attic. Set in colonial Jamaica and Dominica, this modernist novel is a captivating character study, as well as an ‘anti-romance’ which does not glamourise or skim over the issues of race and empire. In an age of woke readers, Mr Rochester is truly horrifying and all-too-relatable villain.
10. TO THE LIGHTHOUSE. Virginia Woolf (1927)
Where: Isle of Skye, Scotland, UK.
Although one of Woolf’s more approachable novels filled with hilarious, eccentric characters, you’ll need to concentrate on this one. Also [spoiler alert] don’t get your hopes up about seeing the lighthouse. Set in the Isle of Skye but supposedly inspired by Woolf’s stays in St. Ives, Cornwall, this is a challenging but rewarding read and a feet of high Modernism.
Any recommendations? I’m always looking for more coastal fiction. Let me know in the comments.