Book review: Estuary by Rachel Lichtenstein
This is an enlightening, enriching and superbly written account of the shifting waters and treacherous sands that join the River Thames to the North Sea. Lichtenstein works broadly downstream, starting from London and moving eastwards, telling the extraordinarily varied stories of the lives that intersected and intersect with the river. The river was what made London, bringing the world to the city, but what is fascinating is how much life went on in and around the river, from dredgers and fishermen, to a self-declared autonomous republic on an old sea fort in the estuary.
The sea fort, calling itself the Principality of Sealand, has been fought over, invaded and defended in its time. The river itself flows with tales, from drowned boats laden with unexploded munitions to the hard lives of the fishermen, and Lichtenstein does a superb job of telling them.
She also has a great deal of time for the various artists who seek to incorporate the river into their work – sometimes with near fatal results. Taking a photographer with her to record the sailing of an old yacht, the photographer faffs around for so long trying to set up his camera that the boat crashes. In the crash, Lichtenstein is quite badly injured. Her commitment to river side artists shows a notable lessening thereafter!
For anyone interested in the river and how the people living alongside it have used, abused, loved and hated it, this is a wonderful book.