Around the North Sea

Being based in the Netherlands, we want to pay tribute to this country and the North Sea region more broadly. The North Sea does not always bring pleasant weather, as you know if you’ve already cycled against the wind and rain. However, this cold and grey sea has been a source of inspiration to many artists and writers in the countries surrounding it. This month, we propose 7 great reads that showcase this region’s rich cultural heritage and history and take you on tour from the UK to the Netherlands and a range of Nordic countries.

The Edge of the World - Michael Pye

What if it was not the Roman Empire but the Lowlands that were at the heart of Europe’s development in the Middle Ages? In “The Edge of the World” Michael Pye sets out to answer this question and shed light on the lesser known (and somewhat foggy) history of the North Sea region. He rather convincingly claims that we owe a great deal to the Vikings, Frisians or the beguines of medieval Flanders who, to a large extent, contributed to shaping the world we live in today. Telling the story of the North Sea and its peoples, the book traces back to this region the origin of some of the key ideas of modernity. Drawing upon a very broad range of sources, Pye combines sound research and great storytelling and invites you to re-think the role of the North Sea region shaping Western society.

You Have Me to Love - Jaap Robben

This multi-award-winning novel by Jaap Robben - a Dutch poet, playwright and author of children’s books - is a coming-of-age story that explores the not-so-romantic side of living on a remote island. Located off the coast of Norway, the fictional island is home to a tiny secluded community, its very few inhabitants exposed to rough weather and lacking socialization. Without proper schooling and only having rare contacts with other people, the protagonist - a boy of 9 - entraps a seagull with its chick and sets about to care for them. This somewhat dark book exudes eeriness and explores the psychological strain and mental issues the protagonists face living on a secluded island.

The Sea, the Sea - Iris Murdoch

The 1978 Booker Prize-winning “The Sea, the Sea” by Iris Murdoch offers a very different take on the life by the sea. The novel follows a retired theater director who ‘leaves it all’ and moves to a secluded house on the coast. Living as a hermit, he decides to take pleasure in simple things - food, daily swimming in the sea and writing. That is, until he comes across his first love, now in her 60s, married, and living just around the corner…. And this is where the plot starts taking unexpected twists (we will not spoil this for you)! This funny, engaging and easy-flowing book is a marvelous character study, rife with black humour and observations of human vanity, egotism and self-delusion. And it might be just what you need if if you are also entertaining a dream of moving, one day, to a secluded place somewhere by the sea…

The Silver Darlings – Neil M. Gunn

This novel, first published in 1941, has never gone out of print and is one of the most successful novels of Neil Gunn, an acclaimed writer considered one of the leaders of the Scottish Renaissance of the 1920s-30s. This novel is set in the north of Scotland in the period of the herring  fishing boom. Following the lives of herring fishermen and their families, Gunn paints very accurate, warm and compassionate portraits of his protagonists. Son of a fishing boat skipper, Neil Gunn drew inspiration from the community he was surrounded by in his childhood. This novel will transport you to a different setting and draw a compelling and broad picture of the life of remote fishing communities that depended on the sea for their survival.

The Dark Blue Winter Overcoat - Sjón and Ted Hodgkinson (Eds.)

This collection of 18 short stories by Nordic authors is not (exclusively) about the sea, although you will surely find it there. Some of the common themes in these stories are the isolation and the warmth of a community and the way they balance each other. In this book, you will find many funny, creepy, weird, playful and magic stories by authors from a range of Nordic countries - from Iceland to the Faroe Islands, Denmark, Norway and Greenland. If what you currently know about the Nordic region amounts to hygge and noir thrillers, this book is a perfect match - it will take you beyond these clichés. As one of the editors, Ted Hodgkinson, says: ”We wanted to show the ripples on the surface of Nordic life.” (Oh, and here is a sea reference for you!)

A Line in the World - Dorthe Nors

Dorthe Nors is one of the best-known Danish writers whose fiction works have been shortlisted for the Booker Prize. In this travelogue, she describes in wonderful poetic prose her travel from Copenhagen to her native Jutland and its coastal villages. The book is divided into 14 essays, each focusing on a different section of the North Sea coast. Nors intertwines the stories of her youth, growing up among these windswept landscapes, and the history of the region, from its Viking legacy to the Nazi occupation, still evidenced by the bunkers scattered along the coast. Offering a rare glimpse into this region, its culture, rituals, and traditions, this book is also a meditation on how our psyche is shaped by the geographies we inhabit.

North Sea: A Visual Anthology – James Attlee (Ed.)

This photo book edited by James Attlee is a fantastic visual exploration of the North Sea in all its manifestations. Bringing together contemporary and vintage photography, the book showcases the the North Sea coastline, draws portraits of the people who sail on this sea and those who live by it. Some photographs are accompanied by essays or poems, making this book truly an artistic tribute to the North Sea.


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