Hamish Hamilton, Penguin Books 2003
A travel book in the strangest sense, Trawler charts English author Redmond O’Hanlon’s experience onboard a deep-sea fishing boat as he explores the North Atlantic and his own psychological limits. O’Hanlon waited eleven months and paid the crew £50 a day to become part of their ten-man team; holed up in his bunk, rolling and lurching on the relentless waves, he recorded his sleep-deprived thoughts and put them together in this, his fourth book.
After setting off from sleepy Stromness, on the edge of a brewing January storm, O’Hanlon’s only companions are the charismatic crew. Much of the book’s appeal lies in his interaction with this assortment of arguing, joking, yet skilled and ultimately admirable Scotsmen. O’Hanlon is catapulted from his cosy Yorkshire home into the midst of these sea veterans with their own knots of friendship and numerous Orkney peculiarities - people who never wear green and think Edinburgh is far south. He acts as a medium, retelling their anecdotes and revealing their quirks and superstitions, giving the reader a glimpse into the lives of these extraordinary men. The sprightly skipper £2 million in debt; the burly first mate who sits on his own at lunch; the lifeboat volunteer taking time off from his biology
doctorate to act as O’Hanlon’s friendly guide – the book is a gripping account of real people simply doing their jobs.
As the book progresses O’Hanlon slips further and further into seasickness, homesickness and all-out disorientation. Conversations are mapped out word for word, fragmented speech speckled with hyphens and interjections and italics. Irrelevant daydreams are transcribed entirely faithfully; thought tangents stream forth to fill a page with ease. It’s not always easy to read, but it’s different and engaging nonetheless.
Out in the middle of the ocean, gutting halibut on a diet of clapshot
and grease in the biting cold, it seems Redmond O’Hanlon eventually finds some sort of immense pleasure - observing, illustrating and finally becoming a part of this unique world. His satisfaction shines through every stilted sentence, until we are gently carried home by the final reflective pages and left back at that silent Stromness port, hearts warmed.