Sea State by Tabitha Lasley - review by Rose George

Rose George

A Rig of One’s Own

Sea State


Fourth Estate 240pp £14.99

When I first boarded a container ship to spend five weeks at sea, I made sure to wear trousers for the first week. I thought that I was entering a world of men, a tight-knit, unknown environment where it was easy to throw someone overboard or sexually assault them and there were no police or CCTV cameras. Anything could have happened to me; nothing did. By the second week, I was wearing a skirt and leaving my cabin door open like everyone else, but I still avoided the bridge after dark because the officer on watch gave me the creeps. And you never know.

What I didn’t do is what Tabitha Lasley did as her extremely immersive method of reporting: get drunk with and then have sex with the first person I encountered. Well, it’s a method. Lasley sets out her intention early on: she wants to discover what men are like when women aren’t around them. As Lasley is a woman, her quest poses some empirical difficulty. But she is too smart for this snark: she undercuts such cynicism with a shrug and uses that Janet Malcolm quote – about journalism being indefensible – as her epigraph.

Lasley is a conundrum. She infuriated me from the off by saying that some of her characters are composites. In that case they are not true and neither is the story she tells, though much of it has the ring of truth. Although she makes reference to recording interviews assiduously,

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