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Another great day at sea

I have just finished Another Great Day at Sea by Geoff Dyer, a writer who refuses to be put in any box. He segues between fiction and non-fiction and alights on subjects that are as unexpected as they are varied. The persona that he paints of himself is misanthropic with a calculated display of ‘attitude’.

Another Great Day at Sea is about his two weeks as writer in residence on board one of America’s ten nuclear aircraft carriers the George H Bush. If ever a president deserved to have a carrier named after him it was Bush senior who, as a young man, flew torpedo bombers from  carriers in the Pacific War – once being shot down and ditching in the ocean. His two crew did not survive. These behemoths have crews of four thousand and are the ultimate projection of violent power that you can use - the nuclear variety not being an option. The title of the book comes from the unvarying prologue to the captain’s talk to his ship – a relentless optimism that Dyer first mocks, but then comes to find both inspiring and admirable as he does with almost everything else he comes across in this unique environment that is uncomfortable, with no privacy and with an unrelenting work schedule.

In this he shares a good deal with Tom Wolfe’s Right Stuff that dealt with the Mercury astronauts of a previous generation. Both bring to their subjects a metropolitan sophistication that looks askance at the God-fearing, flag-saluting, hierarchy-accepting attitudes that they observe. But both come round to taking what they find at face value and discovering self-sacrifice, decency and professionalism at every turn. The cynicism that they abandon makes their observations and descriptions all the more interesting.

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