Strange, dreamy books set by the ocean
August 6, 2016 10:40 AM   Subscribe

Dear Mefi, another ‘books with a feel like…’ post. This time I’m after novels set by the sea (or by a lake if we must), but with a fabulist, magical or eerie feel. Not looking for out and out horror, just a feeling of strangeness in the air. Ambiguity a plus, and many bonus points if set in a run-down seaside town. Examples below the line...

The Seas - Samantha Hunt (girl grows up in downtrodden seaside town, mourning the disappearance of her father into the sea; half-convinced she’s actually a mermaid. This book is a perfect example of what I’m after).

The Nine Gates of Hell - Rupert Thomson

Orkney - Amy Sackville

The Shipping News. (Does for me, anyway, a feeling of dreamy strangeness throughout).

Something with the vibe of this, which sparked this excellent Mefi discussion, but coastal (and not necessarily UK based):
posted by reynir to Writing & Language (34 answers total) 65 users marked this as a favorite
Sweetland, by Michael Crummey fits this to a tee: dreamy, strange and set by the sea. I loved it.
posted by RedEmma at 10:47 AM on August 6, 2016 [5 favorites]

I just read two of these which were amazing and one which is sort of the same but not exactly. Run don't walk and get

1. Book of Speculation by Erica Swyler (sounds like The Seas but a disappearing mother in a mermaid sort of way)
2. The Electric Michaelangelo by Sarah Hall (very dreamy, not specifically with the "sea as character" but a lot of good "what exactly is going on?" stuff happening)
3. The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry (not as much magical realism but a LOT of the sea and old weird houses)
posted by jessamyn at 11:18 AM on August 6, 2016 [3 favorites]

There is always Umberto Eco's Island of the Day Before. It has so much magical, fabulist and surreal in a nautical/tropical setting that you may quickly grow sick of it.
posted by seasparrow at 11:43 AM on August 6, 2016 [3 favorites]

Galilee by Clive Barker might fit this bill...
posted by supermedusa at 11:45 AM on August 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

Two books by Robert Nathan spring to mind. So Love Returns, in which a mysterious woman comes out of the sea to save a man's son from drowning (out of print but cheap copies seem to be available.) The other is The Sea-Gull Cry, also set by the sea. Nathan is most famous for being the author of "Portrait of Jennie" and very good at dreamy strangeness.
posted by OolooKitty at 11:48 AM on August 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

The Secret of the Ron Mor Skerry. I have to admit that I've only seen the movie version (The Secret of Roan Inish), but I think it fits the description of what you're looking for.
posted by kbar1 at 11:51 AM on August 6, 2016 [2 favorites]

Galore by Michael Crummey.

And another vote for the Island of the Day Before
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 11:56 AM on August 6, 2016 [2 favorites]

The Magus, by John Fowles, happens mostly on a Greek island, is complex, mysterious, and odd, and is not horror.
posted by zyxwvut at 11:58 AM on August 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

Colm Tobin The Heather Blazing or the Blackwater Lightship. Nothing actually eerie happens, it's more in his style of writing.
posted by fshgrl at 12:08 PM on August 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

Simone St James writes wonderfully atmospheric, quick reads ( Titles are kind of cheesy, but Silence for the Dead and Inquiry into Love and Death are my favorites.
posted by parkerjackson at 12:21 PM on August 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

The Light Between Oceans was an enjoyable read and the sea played a major role.
posted by RichardHenryYarbo at 1:34 PM on August 6, 2016 [2 favorites]

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier (gothic eerieness in a weird house by the sea galore)
posted by veery at 1:51 PM on August 6, 2016 [5 favorites]

The Loney
posted by KateViolet at 2:15 PM on August 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

Try The Bone People. You cannot get weirder.
posted by BostonTerrier at 2:17 PM on August 6, 2016 [2 favorites]

Ekaterina Sedia’s House of Discarded Dreams is about a college zoology student (the child of African immigrants) who rents a house by the sea for the summer. It's an interesting magical realism type book with mythology and biology woven in. It's actually less bizarro-weird than the Amazon description makes it out be - the parts that stick with me are about her and the sea and the horseshoe crabs.
posted by cobaltnine at 2:44 PM on August 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

Galveston by Sean Stewart ; The Brides of Rollrock Island by Margo Lanagan.
posted by Jeanne at 4:06 PM on August 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

Yep, agreeing with KateViolet that you want The Loney by Andrew Hurley. It's set on the NW coast of England, and it's an almost perfect match for your "something with the vibe of this". Very, very atmospheric.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 4:50 PM on August 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

The Sea, the Sea by Iris Murdoch.
posted by yesbut at 5:06 PM on August 6, 2016 [3 favorites]

Moominpappa at Sea by Tove Jansson (the Kingsley Hart translation). I found it in a secondhand shop on an island in winter and it remains one of my favourite books.
posted by annathea at 6:54 PM on August 6, 2016 [2 favorites]

September Girls by Bennett Madison seems up your alley.
posted by editrixx at 6:59 PM on August 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

The Night Ocean, by R. H. Barlow, revised by H. P. Lovecraft. Definitely written in that Lovecraft style, but just intensely eerie and moody rather than outright horrific or scary.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 7:37 PM on August 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

The Eyes of the Amaryllis, by Natalie Babbitt, should fit the bill very nearly perfectly.

Seaward, by Susan Cooper, is a bit of a stretch. It's not set by the sea, but the main characters are trying to get there. It makes up for its relative paucity of sea with a great deal of the strange and dreamy.
posted by BungaDunga at 9:40 PM on August 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

Wittgenstein's Mistress by David Markson
posted by Dorinda at 10:03 PM on August 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

It's tragic and perhaps a bit more magical than you're looking for, but The Brides of Rollrock Island is steeped in the mournful dreaminess of the sea.
posted by WidgetAlley at 11:55 PM on August 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

Its pretty tween (at best) instead of even young adult, and its not spooky, but it is magical and fun
posted by Jacen at 12:11 AM on August 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

At least half of A Tale for the Time Being, which set on a remote Canadian island. The story gets dreamery and the imagery stormier as the book goes along.
posted by Alexandra Michelle at 6:40 AM on August 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

The Samurai's Garden by Gail Tsukiyama.
posted by BibiRose at 10:05 AM on August 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

Thanks so much everyone. Lots to follow up on here. Much appreciated.

Any latecomers, please add!
posted by reynir at 11:47 AM on August 7, 2016

Southern Reach trilogy by Jeff vandermeer
posted by Justin Case at 4:18 PM on August 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

Gold by Dan Rhodes might fit your bill. Short and bittersweet.
posted by greenish at 4:02 AM on August 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

Midwinter Blood by Marcus Sedgewick
posted by carrioncomfort at 9:08 AM on August 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm not sure if this is a perfect fit, but when you say strange, dreamy books set by the ocean I think of The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman. Not technically an ocean, but certainly dreamy as heck.
posted by faethverity at 7:13 PM on August 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

The Lake by Banana Yoshimoto
posted by exceptinsects at 6:48 PM on August 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

Strange, ambiguous, poetic, joyous but in a sad way (you'll get what I mean), set in a rundown seaside hotel: Ocean Sea by Alessandro Baricco.
posted by hotcoroner at 9:45 AM on August 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

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