Review: Salt on Your Tongue, Charlotte Runcie

Salt on Your Tongue called to me in so many ways. It’s not fiction, so it’s different to what I normally read. It’s about folklore and myths, and also about real life. And it’s ultimately about the things I love and love to write about: women and the sea.

Side note: there are so many books out at the moment with the word ‘salt’ in the title – it’s funny how words and phrases can come and go. Maybe ‘salt’ is what ‘fire’ was a few years ago…

A few pages into Salt on Your Tongue and I knew I would really enjoy it. I really liked the short chapters and sections that weave in and out of each other, like different strands of the same river, or different waves on the ocean. Runcie’s prose are thoughtful and vivid. She sways between Greek myths, the history of Anglo-Saxon caves on remote Scottish coastlines, sea shanties and sailors, and her own story with great ease. Everything feels separate but connected somehow – and that is the power of the sea.

The way Runcie evokes images of the shoreline and motherhood is wonderful. ‘Women and coasts are constantly changing and physically redrawing themselves in cycles. Boundaries are blurred and washed away, and anything is possible at the line between this life and another,’ she writes. ‘Already I am starting to be aware of motherhood making itself known as a brink.’

I most enjoyed her descriptions of her pregnancy and birth. Although I enjoyed the explanations of life on ships and various myths from different cultures relating to the sea, I felt like her writing is most raw and relatable when she describes the strangeness and watery sensations of creating and delivering new life.

But that’s not to say I didn’t like learning about sea glass and the people who collect it. Or the Scottish painter Joan Eardley who I have started to research with passion. I particularly enjoyed the retelling of Victorian heroine Grace Darling who helped to rescue people from a sinking ship and who quickly became an unwitting superstar in the Victorian press. If someone doesn’t write a book about Grace Darling, I’ll have to!

The nice thing about Salt on Your Tongue is that you can dip your toes in and out. It’s easy to pick up and read a few pages and not get too lost, and it’s also easy to submerge yourself and glide through the chapters without really trying. It has been perfect during this time when I haven’t been sure if I want to distract myself with reading, or if I am too distracted to read.

I suppose you could describe Runcie’s work as nature writing, but it also felt a lot more than nature writing. It’s about human nature too, and the stories of women and motherhood that we haven’t always valued. Reading her words made me long for Scotland and its cold harshness. She describes its beaches with such detail, I feel as if I am there, and wish I was. I guess you could say I want to feel the salt on my tongue.

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