The Seaside: England’s Love Affair by Madeleine Bunting - review by Robert Colls

Robert Colls

Coastal Shelf

The Seaside: England’s Love Affair

By

Granta Books 400pp £20
 

The seaside is close to the heart of what it is to be English and everything in this beautifully written book stems from that. Some intellectuals say that in the context of the United Kingdom as a whole, England barely exists, but what they really mean is that they can’t find a single representative idea, law or history that they can boil it down to. Madeleine Bunting, on the other hand, shows that, leaving aside the monarchy, English identity is something ordinary and everyday. It is to be found in the things we do and the assumptions that lie behind them. The simple pleasure of going to the seaside is, or was, one of the great sensory expressions of Englishness. Bunting writes:

Part of being English is an emotional tie to the seaside and a collection of shared experiences: caught by a downpour, sand in the sandwiches, cold seas, sheltering from the wind, and then the opposite, those precious days when the sun is high in a perfect blue sky, the sea is sparkling and the pleasure is all the more intense for being unexpected.

 

No one learned to play football from a coaching manual and no one went to the seaside in order to fulfil their national destiny. It was a given. It went without saying. D H Lawrence said that by ‘life we mean something that gleams’, and our days at the seaside gleamed for days after we’d been.

Our intrepid author, it has to be said, embraces the spartan version of the seaside. She takes various headers into the brown stuff for the joy of shivering her way to the nearest cafe for a cup of tea and a warm-up. ‘It never fails to reach deep into

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