A blog for everything bookish

Saturday 4 October 2014

Strands: A Year of Discoveries on the Beach by Jean Sprackland

In Strands, Jean Sprackland explores a year on a beach, specifically Aindsale Sands on the North West coast of England. The ‘Strands’ of the title is the strandline, the line at which debris gathered and deposited by the sea is left. It is a clever title as Sprackland explores the idea of leavings in more than one way: both the articles left and encountered on the beach and her own leaving, as she moves to a new life in London.

The book is portioned into the various seasons starting with spring, and each section explores different items that Sprackland discovered on the beach. It’s an eclectic mix: from shipwrecks to Neolithic footprints, a teacup lost from Cunard Lines, driftwood and sea squirts. It makes for an interesting blend, and is a great example of how focusing on one small area, in this case a beach, can uncover an extraordinary array of subjects. Weaving among the facts, Sprackland draws out many literary references exposing herself as a literary geek (which is always nice) with snippets from her own poems, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea, Longfellow to name but a few.

Her alter-ego as award winning poet also shines through in the quality of her writing. There’s a lyricism to it which belies its otherwise plain language. That’s the skill of a poet: making something wonderful from ordinary words. Like here, in the chapter ‘Denatured’:

“But living in a place like this, you get used to living with sand. The wind drives it inland, where it scours the paint off window frames and parked cars. Upend the laundry basket, tip out all the socks and T-shirts onto the kitchen floor; what remains is sand. Empty the vacuum cleaner and it’s there, mixed with the fluff and dust which is the detritus of our lives. Even then I know there is plenty more of it, invisibly embedded in the fibres of the carpet in the house. When I clear the place out and move away, this is what will be left behind: a forgotten lightbulb burning itself out in the cupboard under the stairs, the odd coin or hairgrip wedged between floorboards; and sand.”

Strands is a well researched and interesting book, and it certainly made me want to go out and start scouring the beach for interesting finds. Sprackland shows a keen eye and an interest in everything, a willingness to search and find, a sense of care for the wildness and unpredictability of the sea. It is a book of discoveries, of ideas and innovation, a book about exploring and seeking the wonder that is available to us so easily, if only we choose to go and look. It is a book about commitment, how returning to the same place over and over remains rewarding, the value of intimacy and attention.

Strands is a beautiful read. If you’re a lover of nature books (as I am fast becoming) it is one worth looking out for. It doesn’t quite have the extraordinary power of Kathleen Jamie’s writing as seen in Findings which covers a similar theme (and which Sprackland references nicely), it has a softer voice and a less stark, more peopled, feel to it. Despite this, is it still a fascinating book full of interesting information coupled with Sprackland’s unique and valuable perspective.

Strands receives a shored-up 7 out of 10 Biis. 

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