A big liner, brightly lit, passes us one or two cable-lengths ahead. ‘Ow! They are guzzling champagne but cannot see what's in front of them!’ grumbles Etienne, who has the helm and puts Prosper back on course. Our wooden boat, which one long wave can carry, is a mere cork in the wake of that ship, which crushes three dozen such waves under her uncaring steel plates. How many hundreds of men does she carry? Up there, people laugh, play, dream, eat and sleep … while we, a few feet above the water, surrounded by dancing lights, keep watch till dawn.
One summer, Simon Leys joined the crew of a tuna-fishing boat in Brittany, one of the last boats working under sail. In this exceptionally beautiful and elegiac essay, he evokes the traditions, hardships and dangers of the oldest and finest form of seamanship.
Short Blacks are gems of recent Australian writing – brisk reads that quicken the pulse and stimulate the mind.
Simon Leys is the pen-name of Pierre Ryckmans, who was born in Belgium and settled in Australia in 1970. He taught Chinese literature at the Australian National University and was Professor of Chinese Studies at the University of Sydney from 1987 to 1993. His writing has appeared in the New York Review of Books, Le Monde, Le Figaro Littéraire, Quadrant and the Monthly, and his books include The Hall of Uselessness, The Death of Napoleon, Other People’s Thoughts and The Wreck of the Batavia & Prosper. In 1996 he delivered the ABC’s Boyer Lectures. His many awards include the Prix Renaudot, the Prix mondial Cino Del Duca, the Prix Guizot and the Christina Stead Prize for fiction.