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Book of the week: Woman at Sea by Catherine Poulain

This week, discover what Le Monde described as 'a tale of travel and adventure, the story of a body utterly surrendered to pain and joy. It is mind-blowing, a delight', with the novel Woman at Sea, by Catherine Poulain, translated by Adriana Hunter and published by Jonathan Cape.

Le grand Marin (in French) was a bestseller in France when it was published last year. It was rewarded by several literary prizes:  'Prix du roman Ouest France voyageur', prix Pierre Mac-Orlan, prix Joseph-Kessel, prix Nicolas-Bouvier 2016, prix Gens de Mer, etc.


Lili is a runaway. She’s left behind her native France to go in search of freedom, of adventure, of life. Her search takes her to Kodiak, Alaska, home to a ragtag community of fishermen, army vets and drifters who man the island’s fishing fleet. Despite her tiny frame, faltering English and lack of experience, Lili lands a job on board the Rebel, the only woman on the boat.

Out on the open sea, everything is heightened: colours are more vivid, sounds are louder and the work is harder than anything she's ever known. The terrifying intensity of the ocean is addictive to the point of danger. But Lili is not alone: in her fellow crewmembers she finds kindred spirits – men living on the edge, drawn to extremes.

Based on Catherine Poulain’s own experiences, and written in taut, muscular prose, Woman at Sea cuts through the noise of life and straight to the heart of our innermost longings.

Why we liked it at the Book Office

For her first novel, Catherine Poulain assumed an autobiographic style. She describes in a very realistic way her decision to leave from France, her living conditions as a woman, alone, on a fishing boat, and at the heart of a men's world. We dive with her, a frail, discreet, but determined woman, discovering the ocean greatness.

Catherine Poulain began to travel very young. She was employee in a canning industry in Iceland, waitress in Hong-Kong, and "fisherwoman" for ten years in Alaska. Her book breathes truthfulness and plungs British readers into a trip from the ends of the earth. Don't hesitate to travel with her.

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