Page 45 Review by Stephen
Tam, did you lose your boat to a storm?
I didnae lose her, son
I know exactly where she is.
The weather-worn fisherman gazes out past the sanctuary of the Scottish harbour walls, while out at sea rough waves swell and smash against impervious rocks, indifferent to the damage done.
You dont mess with the sea. You respect its power, you respect its enormity and, as any veteran will tell you, you respect its ability to change favour at a moments notice. You certainly dont double-dare it.
1967 on the west coast of Scotland, and Danny is about to pack his bags for college in Glasgow but has offered to fill in for a week aboard The Silver Darling, his fathers fishing vessel. These are difficult times: the herring hauls have been low, so superstitions run high. And sailors are a superstitious lot maybe its their love of stories and storytelling. But Danny, seeing them attempting to exorcise the hold, believes he knows better and has other ideas:
My Da wouldve believed anything other than the fact that the herring were drying up. The way I saw it, these superstitions were clouding matters
and I was determined to bring a spirit of enlightenment to the week ahead.
To that end Danny takes it upon himself to break one of the cardinal rules of safe seafaring no white-handled knives aboard and smuggles on a white, bakelite-handled knife which he stuffs under his pillow.
My plan was simple. Come the first decent haul, Id produce the knife and expose the superstitions as a piece of nonsense. All the scheme required was a wee bit of patience and a little discretion.
Ive been wet with anticipation for many months now, and this book does not disappoint. Its gently told, almost languidly so while the sea stays calm such attention to detail! Theres a shot from below of Danny preparing to descend the cabin ladder which is perfectly composed, the stove, kettle and even soft-porn calendar all crisply delineated and gorgeously lit. When I first saw the figures and faces my immediate response was to compare the craft to Gipi (GARAGE BAND, THEY FOUND THE CAR, NOTES FROM A WAR STORY) and there are indeed a couple of panels where the washes are as loose as Gipis too. Overwhelmingly, however, the grey tones are both warmer and far, far cleaner. As for the underwater sequence where the herring converge to form a circling shoal, that took my breath away! Morris presents us with the perfect sense of the vastness of the ocean and the elusiveness therefore of any decent catch, then blind panic as the net closes in and the fish become trapped, wide-eyed and gasping in the mesh, only for someone to shout out, Danny!
For yes, from the moment Danny defies all known nautical wisdom with his act of hubris, however well intentioned, there is a worry which slowly and subtly builds and builds and builds. Maybe its a tension informed by The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner, but you cant shake the certainty, that terrible feeling in your gut, that this novice should have listened to his elders and betters and just done his job as they asked him to. After all, hes not quite as smart as he thinks:
Here, I tell you what. I was gonnae have you make the tea on board, but well toss for it. Heads I win, tails you lose
Ach, its tails. Never mind, eh?
He won every time.
I was gonnae have to check that coin.