Monday 4 December 2023

Novel views of sea, sex and gender: latest fiction

Creative thinking about gender and the sea is burgeoning this year.  Bayous, aquaria in shopping malls, English fishing villages: water and its denizens are central. 

These books are ideal booty for Xmas stockings because they're such a holiday from the maritime industry as we know it.   

In these novels, water is not just wet stuff; sea routes are not a sort of autostrada.  Water's a metaphor for our deep and puzzling places.

 Mermaids are nothing like Disneyesque hetereosexual cuties. Fishermen are not cosy Cap'n Birdseyes in sensible-bloke waders. 

Deep emotions - including longing and quests for identity and love - surface oddly and stir currents

Two of the latest of several new novels about sea  life - mixed with gender and sexuality - have just won national prizes.  In late November Julia Armfield was awarded the Polari overall prize for LGBTQ+ books for her novel Our Wives Under the Sea

The quotes immediately below are from the Guardian,“Our Wives Under the Sea tells the story of Leah, who unexpectedly returns from a disastrous deep-sea dive, and her wife, Miri, who grapples with the ways Leah changed while under water. ... Judge Joelle Taylor, said 'It is a strange, speculative, poetic and thrilling novel – a heart turner as much as a page turner.'"

In the same Polari prize competition, Jon Ransom’s The Whale Tattoo gained the first book award. 

The plot summarised: “Protagonist Joe Gunner navigates difficult memories as he returns to his Norfolk fishing town and renegotiates his relationships with those he left. 'It’s suffused with salt air and gay longing,' declared judge Adam Zmith."

Other  ‘queer’ maritime/ marine novels in 2023 include 

Chlorine by Jade Song. Compulsive swimmer Ren Yu grew up on stories of creatures of the deep ... She's always longed to become a mermaid. She will do anything she can to make a life for herself where she can be free. No matter the pain... No matter how much blood she has to spill. A powerful, relevant tale of immigration, sapphic longing, and fierce, defiant becoming” says Waterstones. 

The Immeasurable Depth of You , by Maria Ingrande Mora. "A queer supernatural coming-of-age story for young adults." Fifteen-year-old Brynn is lonely, staying with her father on a houseboat in the Florida mangroves. Horrors! There is no digital connection to her online friends. Then she meets "sultry, athletic, and confident Skylar. Brynn resolves to free her new crush from the dark waters of the bayou, even if it means confronting all of her worst fears."

Sea Change by Gina Chung. This novel's about Ro, a bereaved aquarium worker who’s drinking too many non-medicinal sharktinis. She loves Dolores, a  horny giant Pacific octopus,  Ro's last remaining link to her father. A marine biologist, he disappeared while on an expedition. This is about loss, healing, an Asian-American family, and tenderness. 

Surfacing in 2024

Feb 2024. In the Shallows  (also called The Mermaid of Black Rock) by Tanya Byrne

Young adult novel in which two girls fall in love during their attempt to understand a mystery: Nicoletta, a teenager, was hauled out of the ocean, after which her rescuing fishermen die. "Had Nicoletta lured them to their deaths―their lives in exchange for hers?" She becomes a legend and then meets Mara, who desires her, futilely. “Could there be a reason [why Nico has] locked everything behind a door? And once she's brave enough to open it, what will happen to her? To them?”

You can still catch ...

 2021:  The Mermaid of Black Conch, by Monique Roffey. Mermaid meets landsman. Their Caribbean community handles conflicts about masculinity and more.