Amorous doings in the tide pools of a wild Atlantic coast.
During a period of depression, Otte (Love in the Garden, not reviewed) was shipped to the shore, to Brittany and a “fisherman’s cabin, built of granite, facing the forcefulness of the waves.” (It was also redolent of “a rather unpleasant and indefinable odor, dank and rancid.”) Quickly, he becomes sensitized, filled with wonder, and allowed to slip from his depression—not as a thief in the night but as a free man. The vehicle for this escape turns out to be the love life of the creatures in the surf and pools, as he witnesses their elemental acts in a primitive ocean. In short, combustible chapters, Otte invites readers to share with him the outlandish acts of the gregarious sea urchin (an indifferently promiscuous “state council of fat chestnuts”) or the cuttlefish (cutting loose a tentacle and sending it as a love letter to his inamorata). These are biology lessons in miniature, as delicate and sensual as anything from the Rajput court, revealing the “ties of salt and blood, the urgency of appetites and permanent conflicts,” and wrapped in stories from the author’s fevered investigations—operatically scored and great fun. Come admire the lobster’s coolness (“she observes him at first with an impassive eye, as one might examine a stack of proposals or deals”), then be shocked by the wild, sex-mad sea snail; consider the honest wrack (“being seaweed offers a rather untroubled existence”), but keep in mind that “it is better not to become a salmon” (whose love life is one long mortal war dance). Last to be swept up in the sharp erotic interlude are the human beings, whose strange antics close the narrative.
They may be lobsters and shrimp, winkles and cockles and limpets, and it may be in “a language only they understand”—but this is surely the music of love.