Coasting round Britain single-handed in an antique two-masted sailing boat, Jonathan Raban conducts a masterly exploration of England and the English at the time of Margaret Thatcher and the Falklands War. He moves seamlessly between awkward memories of childhood as the son of a vicar, a vivid chronicle of the shape-shifting sea and incisive descriptions of the people and communities he encounters. As he faces his terror of racing water, eddies, offshore sandbars and ferries on a collision course, so he navigates the complex and turbulent waters of his own middle age. Coasting is a fearless attempt to discover the meaning of belonging and of his English homeland.
‘Jonathan Raban is simply one of the great writers of non-fiction at work today. I hold his work in awe.’ Robert Macfarlane
‘Jonathan Raban belongs with the very best in the grand tradition of British travel writers. Coasting catches Britain brilliantly from the outside as very few books ever have. Not since Conrad has a writer studied, respected and rendered the shifting surfaces of the ocean with such beauty and accuracy. Like the best of the travel writers, he’s a great self-questioner. He charts the far reaches of solitude with profound insight, humour and immense intellectual resource.’ Ian McEwan
Format: 256pp demi pb
Place: England, UK
Born in the middle of the Second World War in 1942, Jonathan Raban was brought up in Norfolk by his mother, who not only taught her son to read, but shared her own delight in writing and good storytelling with him. Jonathan’s relationship with his father, who returned from the war a total stranger and a hero, and went on to be an Anglican clergyman, was much more complex. The tension between this moral martinet and his louche and feckless son seems to have fuelled Raban’s knowing and savagely funny critique of his own British culture, and to have enabled him to escape his homeland with such relish.
Raban read English at the University of Hull and was briefly an academic before launching himself as a freelance writer, becoming part of the brilliant and hard-drinking literary crowd centred around Ian Hamilton’s New Review. A freelance assignment for the BBC, recording Freya Stark barging down the Euphrates, inspired his first travel book, Arabia: Through the Looking Glass (1979). He went on to float down the Mississipi (Old Glory, 1981) and sail round the shores of Britain (Coasting, 1986). For Love and Money (1987) is a searingly honest memoir and a funny and affectionate look at the freelance writing trade, while the journey described in Hunting Mr Heartbreak (1990), into and across America, led him to settle in Seattle. The birth of a daughter confirmed the city as home. While in the States, Raban has written Bad Land (1996), Passage to Juneau (1999) and Driving Home (2011) as well as such fictional works as Waxwings (2003) and Surveillance (2006).