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The music of piracy The Nautical Chart Arturo Prez-Reverte trans Margaret Sayers Peden 466pp Picador The sea as a literary trope is functionally rather similar to outer space in science fiction It is a liminal realm where the messy contingencies of dry land or solid earth are left behind and human action confined to a flimsy shell within a hostile environment can be observed at its most elemental Ridley Scotts film Alien for example with its sly winks to Joseph Conrad the ship is called the Nostromo is a sea story in all but its superficies and the countless episodes of Star Trek constitute an extended homage to that first great sea adventure The Odyssey In the age of diesel engines and global-positioning satellites though the sea and its dangers have been largely demystified were Conrad writing today his characters might be astronauts rather than sailors This fading of the oceans romance is a major theme in Arturo Prez-Revertes present-day romance of the ocean The sea no longer represents the perfect escape it once did It isnt easy any more to get away explains the taciturn hero Theres the telephone the fax the internet That being so Prez-Reverte splices the action with a historical puzzle from the golden age of sail the chase and sinking by a pirate ship of an 18th-century Jesuit brigantine whose secret cargo now lies somewhere on the sea bottom beckoning to a colourful cast of modern treasure-hunters Prez-Reverte is a Spanish novelist whose previous books have become bestsellers on the continent mixing as they do compelling detective plots with a European literary sensibility Accordingly The Nautical Chart is highly conscious of its literary ancestors its hero Coy is a sailor who has devoured all the classic sea romances and namechecks Conrad Melville and Stevenson There is even a moment when the narrator reveals himself as a character in the story and calls himself the Marlow
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