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Shark Drunk: The Art of Catching a Large Shark from a Tiny Rubber Dinghy in a Big Ocean

A soothing journey to the bottom of the sea

Imagine you’re out in a small dinghy fishing with your best friend. While you bob around, watch the stars and wait for the big catch, you swap stories about fishing, extreme weather, stunning nature, anecdotes about island life, fascinating facts about life in the oceans, art, poetry and much more. That’s what Shark Drunk is like. I loved this meditative gem of a book which will teach you things I’m willing to bet you didn’t know and leave you pining for a life in the slow lane. I’ve been fortunate enough to interview Morten Strøksnes, see what the author says about his book here.

Morten Strøksnes’ best friend Hugo lives in the wild and stunningly beautiful Lofoten Islands in the north of Norway. Morten and Hugo’s dream is to catch a Greenland shark, one of the ocean’s most elusive creatures. It’s the largest flesh-eating shark (yes, even larger than the great white) in existence, a fish whose poisonous meat will make you hallucinate or ‘shark drunk’ if you were to eat it. It’s a fish that can reach the age of five hundred years and whose eyes are penetrated by dangling parasites which slowly cause it to go blind. The stuff nightmares are made of, in other words.

We have mapped the world, and we no longer fill in the blank spaces with strange monsters and fantastical animals conjured from our imagination. But maybe we should, because all life on the planet has not yet been discovered – far from it. […] Undoubtedly, the greatest discoveries await us in the ocean, where new life forms are constantly being discovered.

Indeed, much of the ocean, remains a dark, deep secret. And that’s what Strøksnes is interested in, the magic of the sea and what it hides or, occasionally, reveals, like the vampire squid, for example, which when threatened ‘bites off one of it’s eight arms, which then drifts through the water alone, with blinking blue lights’ (!).

With a carcass of a rotting Scottish Highland bull as bait, Morten and Hugo set out on their mission, but catching a Greenland Shark is no easy feat, and Morten, who lives in Oslo, has to travel up north once every season in their quest. All the while, the weather, the light and the ocean change, from calm summer seas when ‘the ocean has found its lowest resting pulse’ to fierce, dangerous winter storms.

Shark Drunk is a lovely atmospheric book; a quiet, calm read that will teach you things without being preachy or pretentious; an ebb and flow of nuggets of information, reflections around nature, friendships (Morten and Hugo’s is put to the test) and our place in the universe. It’s a humbling read which puts us humans in perspective. Strøksnes has written a gem of a book.

Shark Drunk: The Art of Catching a Large Shark form a Tiny Rubber Dinghy in a Big Ocean is translated by Tiina Nunnally and published by Jonathan Cape, 320 pages.

Many thanks to Jonathan Cape for giving me a review copy of Shark Drunk.

The Guardian’s review of Shark Drunk

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