Friday, 8 September 2000

Hammond Innes: Sea and Islands (1967)

Edition: William Collins, 1967
Review number: 607

Thriller writer Hammond Innes was also a sailor and traveller; Sea and Islands is a collection of travelogues recording voyages in his yacht Mary Deare (named after the boat wrecked in one of his best known novels) and several other journeys.

The voyages, forming the first part of the book, are around the North Sea and Mediterranean; the journeys in the second part venture further afield. The trips themselves are not terribly interesting, ranking as standard pieces of journalism that most professional writers could probably put together fairly quickly. Probably at the time the whole book could be dismissed in that way, though today there is some value in the depictions of a Mediterranean that has largely vanished under the onslaught of package tourism. The trip to Tito's Yugoslavia is particularly fascinating, as that was a society that now feels even more remote.

However, there are more evocative books dealing with this part of Innes' subject, notably those by Gerald Durrell about pre-war Corfu and his brother Lawrence's about Cyprus in the days leading up to the island's independence. These books are about a time a little earlier than the mid-sixties coverages of Sea and Islands, but both writers were more closely involved with what they were writing about and both were better writers (and, moreover, wrote amusingly).

To any student of Innes' writing, if there are such, Sea and Islands would be vitally important: many of the settings for his novels are based on what he saw on journeys included in this book. But for others, the time has passed when they will be of any great interest.

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