Review: “Salt on Your Tongue” by Charlotte Runcie

Reading is physical. I put my head on the pillow, my cheek against the cool cotton, I turn the book in my arms from one side to the other and see how the silver bubbles on the cover shine like fish scales or tiny stars. I open the first page, fingertips slide over it, paper as soft as my bed, and I slowly sink in like a stranded whale in sand. My body feels heavy, I am ready to enter another world, I am ready to roll back in the sea and swim away. Reading is crossing a threshold.

“It forgot what being a dolphin was, until the tide came back in and it swam away and remembered,” Lucy Wood wrote in The Sing of The Shore. I need to read to remember, and I need to be close to the sea, or even better in it, to become me. With first read lines a voice appears. Long and lulling like flapping waves are Charlotte Runcie’s sentences in her beautiful debut book Salt on Your Tongue: Women and the Sea. 

It’s a book of stories, legends, myths and songs about the sea, and about women who are left on the shore to take care of the life on land, to wait and hope, while men are in the sea, and about women, who are as dangerous, powerful and mysterious as the sea itself, the mermaids, selkies, sea goddesses and witches. There’s something in Charlotte Runcie’s voice of late night gatherings around a fireplace to tell tales, while wind rattles windows. Something safe and inspiring like a voice of a loved one who reads you a bedtime story.

Mothers, wives, daughters and grandmothers, a kinship through womb and blood, and milk, and sweat, and tears, and songs, and family recipes. It’s all there. Charlotte Runcie has lost her beloved Granny, and becomes pregnant for the first time in her life. “Odysseus was blown off course on his way home from Troy. He wanted to get home. I wanted to have an adventure. But I’m going to have a baby.” Throughout the book memories about grandmother are woven together with her own slow becoming a mother.

Charlotte Runcie is a poet. Many sentences pierce the layers of the sea like pebbles thrown into the water. In some parts her writing thickens in a visceral reading experience, for example, in chapter about drowning in freshwater and saltwater, and about giving a birth.

Descriptions of pregnancy are vivid and honest, and blend with lines about the sea like cut from the same fabric. Women bodies are so close to the sea, both ruled by the Moon in the sky. Not only women. Each of us spends nine months under water in an inner sea in our mother’s belly. This book can help to regrow our lost umbilical cord with the sea.

When Charlotte gives birth to her daughter (chapter about labour is an absolute gem, it feels like a trance when you read it and it strongly evoked the feelings I had, giving birth to both my sons), her fear to lose freedom by becoming a parent has disappeared completely. She is filled with “deep blue love” towards the pink being, her little starfish.

Charlotte Runcie. Salt on Your Tongue: Women and the Sea. Canongate, 2019

bbbooks_saltonyourtongue copy

Lasīšana ir ķermeniska. Nolieku galvu uz spilvena, vaigs pie vēsās kokvilnas, grozu zem lampas grāmatu, sudraba burbuļi uz vāka zaigo kā zivs zvīņas vai mazas zvaigznes. Atveru pirmo lapu, papīrs mīksts kā gulta, iegrimstu kā izmeties valis smiltīs. Ķermenis kļūst smags, esmu gatava jaunai pasaulei, gatava ievelties atpakaļ jūrā un peldēt prom. Lasīt nozīmē pārkāpt slieksni.

“Tas aizmirsa, ko nozīmē būt par delfīnu, līdz atnāca paisums un tas aizpeldēja prom un atcerējās,” raksta Lūsija Vuda grāmatā The Sing of The Shore. Man ir jālasa, lai atcerētos sevi, un tam man vajag arī jūru. Līdz ar pirmajām rindiņām parādās autores balss. Gari un aijājoši kā viļņi ir britu rakstnieces Šarlotes Runsijas teikumi viņas debijas grāmatā Salt on Your Tongue: Women and the Sea.

Grāmata vij stāstus, mītus, leģendas un dziesmas par jūru, tā ir par sievietēm, kas palika krastā, lai rūpētos par dzīvi uz zemes, lai gaidītu un cerētu, kamēr vīri bija jūrā, un par tām sievietēm, kas ir tikpat bīstamas, graujošas un noslēpumainas kā jūra pati – nāras, jūras dievietes un raganas. Šarlotes Runsijas balsī ir kaut kas no vēla vakara pie iekurtas krāsns, kopā stāstot stāstus, kamēr aiz loga auro vētra. Kaut kas nomierinošs un pacilājošs, kā mīļa cilvēka balss, uz gultas malas lasot tev.

Mātes, meitas, sievas, vecāsmātes: radniecība caur dzemdi, asinīm, pienu, sviedriem, asarām, dziesmām un ģimenes receptēm. Tas viss ir te. Šarlote zaudē mīļo vecomammu un pirmo reizi dzīvē tikpat negaidīti paliek stāvoklī. “Odiseju mājupceļā no Trojas novirza no kursa. Viņš gribēja tikt mājās. Es gribēju piedzīvojumus. Bet tā vietā man būs bērns.” Grāmatā atmiņas par vecmāmiņu (piemēram, restorānā viņai neesot bijusi problēma izdzert pudeli vīna; uz kādas sievietes nosodošo komentāru, ka neko tādu viņa neesot redzējusi, vecmāmiņa atbildējusi ar vēl vienu pasūtītu pudeli, piebilstot: nu tad skaties!) savijas ar Šarlotes kļūšanu par mammu.

Grūtniecības apraksti ir spilgti un godīgi, un aužas ar rindām par jūru it kā būtu piegriezti no viena auduma. Galu galā cilvēks nāk no iekšējās jūras mammai vēderā, deviņus mēnešus pavadot zem ūdens. Kad Šarlotes meita piedzimst, visa nedrošība un bailes par jauno statusu ir gaisušas. Ir tikai “dzīļu zila mīlestība” pret rozā jūraszvaigznei līdzīgo radībiņu.

Charlotte Runcie. Salt on Your Tongue: Women and the Sea. Canongate, 2019