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Trawler: A Journey Through the North Atlantic Hardcover – January 4, 2005

3.3 out of 5 stars 45 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Deviating from his usual excursions into the world's rainforests, O'Hanlon (No Mercy) finagles his way onto a Scottish deep-sea fishing boat headed into the North Atlantic waters in January, "the very worst time of year," when storm winds are at their most forceful. The captain and crew seem to like O'Hanlon well enough, even if he is a "mad, seasick writer who's no use to anyone," prone to staring off into the distance when he gets distracted by his thoughts, and he conveys a genuine affection for them as he records their stories. Since there's little to do aboard the ship other than help his marine biologist friend catalogue the various fishes they pull up, and no real scenery to describe besides the wind and the rain, O'Hanlon gets into one long conversation after another—or maybe just one long conversation with intermittent interruptions, as a certain degree of sameness creeps in. O'Hanlon and his shipmates are equally excitable, especially under their sleep-deprived conditions, leading to dialogue peppered with exclamation points and fevered theories about near-total homosexuality within the 19th-century British navy and the possibility that women find trawlermen attractive because fish smell like human pheromones. Though the unrelenting, incongruous manic tone may be off-putting to newcomers, fans of O'Hanlon's trouble-filled sagas will feel right at home. Photos, illus. not seen by PW.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Bookmarks Magazine

In Trawler, O’Hanlon (No Mercy, In Trouble Again), a British naturalist and adventurer, takes readers on a hallucinogenic journey. Extraordinary (or nauseating, depending on the perspective) first-hand accounts of the ship, the close quarters, the smell, the fear, and the seasickness bring his experience to life. It’s no picnic—just call Trawler a hellish travelogue or dark comedy as O’Hanlon’s sleep-deprived sea companions slowly lose their minds. The best parts include conversations between the author and biologist Luke Bullough, who talk science as they examine their monstrous sea findings (portrayed in beautiful black and white drawings). The worst parts include these same musings, which a few critics described as overworked monologues. Still, armchair sailors will find much value in the unfamiliar, nightmarish world O’Hanlon depicts.

Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 339 pages
  • Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf (January 4, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400042755
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400042753
  • Product Dimensions: 6.7 x 1.3 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (45 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,818,857 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
So you've noticed. Some reviewers give enthusiastic accolades, while others seem to denounce it. But why such polarized views?

This is where the "expectation" can ruin your appetite. It is probably safe to say that Trawler by Redmond O'Hanlon is a unique and unusual read for everyone. The book could have discussed a plethora of political, economical and ecological issues surrounding Scottish fishing industry. Or could the scholastic O'Hanlon have delved into the biology of deep sea fauna. Each of such approaches would have led to a great story, but as it is, Trawler is about something else.

O'Hanlon chose to limit himself to what had actually happened aboard a commercial trawler out in the frigid North Atlantic. He decided to focus on a handful of unfamiliar experiences that made his trip very special; the relentless weather and the incessant physical labors, the severe sleep deprivation, the encyclopedic knowledge displayed by a young biology student on the ship and the curious comradeship (or shall we say, the shipmateship) among the rough, hard-talking crews.

The horrific weather is evident throughout the book; the simplest move is with utmost difficulty. And the first casualty is, of course, the author's GI tract. There is very little sense of time passing, which testifies to the hectic but monotonous nature of the trade. But most importantly, it is the sense of sleep deprivation (miserable brain malfunction) that O'Hanlon succeeds most in conveying; the bombardment of non-stop, uncontrollable, loosely structured sentences. A big chaos. A real stream-of-consciousness. But he manages to stop short of becoming gibberish. Yes, there are numerous chaotic passages, but they are there to help the (mock) experience of the reader.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
After reading "In Trouble Again" and "Into the Heart of Borneo" I had pegged O'Hallahan as a prime example of the British "Fish out of water, funny things happen" school of travel writing. Sort of Bill Bryson in really exotic places. And I really liked these books.

"Trawler" is something else, though. The setting this time is not some tropical jungle, but a fishing vessel in the middle of a winter storm in the Northern Atlantic. Nature becomes a terrorizing presence that robs the people on the boat of peace of mind and sleep, and leads to frenzied, almost delusional conversations about everything from life on small islands to marine biology. The pace is close to Hunter Thompson's drug-addled ramblings, but here it is driven by the need to make sense of at least something in the face of the on-slaught of the elements.

The ideas expressed in the book would be interesting even if expressed in a more conventional setting, but the rythm that is pushed onto the people on the boat by the storm makes it irresitable. As much as I liked "The Lobster Chronicles", I don't think it holds a candle to this book.
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Format: Hardcover
I usually like O'Hanlon's books...I usually can't put them down. But this one...well, I'm just not sure I like it at all. Written in what O'Hanlon, I'm sure, thinks is a style akin to the sleep-deprived ramblings he must have encountered on the trawler, the book instead veers into incoherence and becomes only annoying. Revelations only work if you feel some sympathy and identification with the speaker and I found the speakers, with one exception, highly uninteresting and unsympathetic. Only big Bryan held my interest and I wanted to hear more from him.

I found myself heartily sick of Luke, the walk-on-water marine biologist...he was like an orchestra work comprised of one note, played over and over and over. Jason the skipper...same thing. O'Hanlon invests them with a false nobility that just grates on the nerves after awhile.

I can't recommend this book, but I heartily recommend O'Hanlon's other works.
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Format: Hardcover
Since reading the stories of the U-Boats and convoys in the North Atlantic in the middle of winter I've always wanted to see what it was like.

This book cured me of any possible thoughts I might have had about actually doing something about it.

Apparently the author had some of the same ideas. Unlike me he actually did something about it. I'm glad he did, now I don't have to. I learned from him that I especially do not want to go see the North Atlantic on a fishing trawler.

The book is kind of strange in its way of writing. But I think he was trying to capture the actual nature of the conversations being conducted by sleep deprived men. He couldn't write this way, he couldn't think this way normally and be the successful author he is. I think that writing like this shows a lot more talent than the normal travelogue.

This is a book that will make you think strange thoughts as you look at a piece of fish on your plate. If you want a book on going strange places, this is clearly the one.
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Format: Hardcover
O'Hanlon has done as good a job as any with the given material. The book premise - go out fishin' on a trawler for a few weeks in the North Atlantic in the middle of winter. By the end of the book you certainly have a sense of it - arduous, stinking, sleep deprived, and relentless. He tries to portray his shipmates, mostly louts, as interesing and half succeeds. He attempts to make the specifics of trawling interesting but how could you? The book sinks under O'Hanlons rambling conversations with his mentor Luke most of which are not even vaguely interesting. O'Hanlon himself becomes an embarrassing burden to the crew as they grind toward their quota. It is in this burden that the theme solidifies - 'trawler life sucks'.
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