Woman at Sea by Catherine Poulain (Translated by Adriana Hunter) - review by Davina Langdale

Davina Langdale

Ocean Red

Woman at Sea


Jonathan Cape 290pp £14.99 order from our bookshop

bright red fish ‘streaming with seawater and blood’ plants a poisonous spine ‘like a flaming arrow’ in the hand of a fisherwoman; the hand swells, becoming lethally infected; the woman stubbornly refuses aid, until eventually she is manhandled to safety by the all-male crew of her fishing vessel. This situation is characteristic of a strange, hypnotic tale in which a wildly brave, possibly half-crazed woman pursues her own ‘beautiful red ending’.

The young woman (her age is never specified) is Lili, a French runaway who travels to Alaska to seek work on a fishing boat. Despite having no experience, she secures a place on the Rebel and is plunged into a world of butchery and dangerous exertion.

The predominantly present-tense first-person narrative combines dreamlike reverie – ‘Is it asleep or am I dreaming?’ Lili wonders as a seabird looms out of the darkness – with fraught vitality in the arresting fishing scenes, in which fish ‘spew’ and ‘seethe’ and blood ‘spurts’. Catherine Poulain also left her

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