Review: No Signposts in the Sea

Years before the Stones and the Beatles defined the decade, 1961 produced a book a little over 100 pages.

But No Signposts in the Sea was forgotten as quickly as it was found, overshadowed by the author’s affairs, most notably with fellow author Virginia Woolf.

No Signposts in the Sea sat on the back row of a charity shop bookcase, priced at £1.99. It sat on my own bookshelf for years after, always being put aside for another. Looking back, I would’ve done better to read it the day it was bought.

Edmund Carr is ill, and could drop dead at any moment. He chooses to spend his last days with the woman he secretly loves, travelling the ocean on a cruise ship. Whilst this sounds like the beginning to a pseudo romance, Sackville-West plays on the jealousy Edmund feels when he sees his love with other men, and how, even though his days are counting down, he refuses to rush any moment, lest he ruin his final chance.

No Signposts in the Sea in an honest book. There are no flourishes for the reader craving the impossible. There’s no secret medicine to cure Edmund. You follow Edmund into the known, into the regrettable and, finally, into the darkness, with the better taste of nostalgia following you: “What does it matter if today is Wednesday or Thursday, when one can recall the glow of building a snow-man and sticking a pipe into his mouth.”

56 years later and Sackville-West’s novella of death on the ocean is still buried in time, where it will stay until all copies are lost.

I returned the book to the same charity shop, where once again it would be under-priced and left for many years. But one day someone new will find it, and this book will survive for a little while longer.