My Top 5 Nautical Novels


In just under a week’s time I’ll be kicking back on board a boat, gliding peacefully through the beautiful Norfolk Broads with some friends.  You can’t get a more relaxing holiday than this, and the prospect of a week without work, wifi or any kind of frantic activity is incredibly appealing.  There is also, of course, plenty of time for reading – hopefully in the sun but definitely with a glass of Prosecco in hand.  I thought, therefore, it was the perfect time to count down my top 5 nautical novels (or to be more accurate, books that have boats in them!)  So here goes…

  1. Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh – in any list relating to seafaring you simply couldn’t leave this out. It’s the first in a series of books called The Ibis Trilogy, set in the run up to and during the Opium Wars.  Almost every character in the immense cast can be linked in some way to the formidable ship, the Ibis, and in its company we travel half way round the world to exotic places and alien cultures.  Even when the vessel is hundreds of miles away from the action, its presence is felt in the shared history of its passengers and crew.  It’s Ghosh’s masterpiece.
  2. The Picts and the Martyrs by Arthur Ransome – “Swallows and Amazons” may be his most famous book but for some reason this one was always my favourite of the series. The arrival of a dreaded Great Aunt forces the young adventurers to find devious ways to carry out their quests, and I remember desperately wanting to be part of their world of climbing, camping and of course sailing. The idea that children my own age could handle a boat – on their own! – was a dream to me; in fact all these books are a paean to the freedom that children now so seldom get to experience.
  3. Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K Jerome – I have to confess I’ve used this book before for another of my top 5 lists – but it’s just so good! And to be honest I couldn’t not include it here, as the story of a bunch of amateurs attempting to learn the ways of the river is going to be pretty close to the mark in a few days’ time!
  4. All the Rivers run by Nancy Cato – someone leant me this book many years ago now, but it still sparks very vivid memories. It takes place in large part on a paddle steamer during the glory days of river transport in Australia, and follows the loves, ambitions and disappointments of a young English girl who becomes torn between the romance of the river and the pull of the town and its potential for intellectual and artistic fulfilment.  It will sweep you away as the river sweeps a boat downstream…
  5. Life of Pi by Yann Martel – is there a more mystical, dreamlike nautical sojourn than this? It contains a boy, a boat and what is possibly the most famous tiger in literature, and is stuffed full of meaning and metaphor.  The author really knew how to capture the imagination with this book, and makes you part of a sea voyage the like of which you’ll never find again.

As ever, I’d love to know which books would be on your list so do share your thoughts!

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