Posted by: Lisa Hill | December 7, 2014

Navigatio (2014), by Patrick Holland

NavigatioNavigatio is an enchanting book.   Derived from an ancient text called the Navigatio, Patrick Holland’s novella is a retelling of the legendary voyage of St Brendan of Clonfert, and it follows the form of the Irish immram:

Irish immram flourished during the seventh and eighth centuries. Typically, an immram was a sea-voyage in which a hero, with a few companions, often monks, wanders from island to island, meets other-world wonders, and finally returns home. The story of Brendan’s voyage, developed during this time, shares some characteristics with immram. Like an immram, the Navigatio tells the story of Brendan, who, with some companion monks, sets out to find the terra repromissionis sanctorum, the Promised Land of the Saints or the Earthly Paradise.  (See Wikipedia).

*chuckle* I can almost see some readers thinking, ‘um, why would I want to read that?’  Trust me, it’s  gorgeous.   It’s a quiet, contemplative meditation on a spiritual quest that takes a temporal form, and I loved reading it in the frantic rush up to the end of the year when work overwhelms and the pressure to do stuff for Christmas wreaks its inexorable hold on everything.  Holland’s writing is sublime, and he takes you away from all that chaos into a dream world of myth where simplicity reigns:

At the end of Brendan’s watch the dawn wind stirred and the strength of night was broken.  Three stars rose in the northwest that he did not know.

What skies are these? he thought.  Will this dawn restore us?

The sun broke through a thresh of deep-sea rain.  A sweeter breeze had arrived, raucously announced by a flock of black and white gulls riding it inland in the hope of offal. (p. 134)

We need books like this.  Books that remind us that despite the enormity and malevolence of the cosmos, there is peace to be had.  In his tiny boat, Brendan might well be overwhelmed by the all-powerful sea, and like Ulysses he is confronted both by recognisable evils and those masquerading as helpful spirits or desirable women.  Satan seems indefatigable in his capacity to tempt this simple man of faith and lure him away from his quest for the Isle of the Blessed.  Even time can’t be trusted.  Yet Brendan prevails, and he does so despite his travails because he never loses sight of what is really important.

You don’t have to be a religious person for a take-home message like that.

The book is beautifully designed – bouquets to Peter Lo and the Transit Lounge team.  Underneath the dust-jacket which you can see in the image above, the hardback cover is slate grey like the sea under a lowering sky, and it is textured so that you can feel under your fingers the contrasting white print of the title and author, and the circular image of the journey stippled by pinpricks.  Inside, the vignettes are illustrated by black and white paintings by Junko Azukawa which add to the sense of the surreal because they are unmistakeably Japanese, remote in style and culture from a sixth-century tale set in the Atlantic Ocean.

BTW the press blurb that came with the book tells me that The Darkest Little Room (see my review) is currently in film development.  That is going to make a terrific film, I can’t wait!

Author: Patrick Holland
Title: Navigatio
Publisher: Transit Lounge, 2014
ISBN: 9781921924774
Source: review copy courtesy of Transit Lounge


Fishpond: Navigatio


  1. From your description, I take this as a novella written this year in the form of an Irish immram from the seventh or eighth century. That sounds very interesting. There wasn’t much writing at that time before the printing press.


    • It’s more complicated than that, apparently. The Wikipedia article is very long, but it goes into the provenance of the story which derives from a surviving 12th century version though some scholars think it may have been written down earlier than that. I dug out my old Penguin Irish Myths and Sagas, but it post-dates the ones in that.
      Holland, however, follows the genre, so to speak but he does it in a 21st century way. One of the blurbers in the press release likens it to Calvino but I haven’t read Invisible Cities so I can’t comment on that. I predict that you will love it.


  2. Wow, sounds deep and well outside my experience base. But interesting. Glad you enjoyed it.


    • LOL it was outside mine too, I don’t know much about 6th century monks either! But it’s lovely, I wished it was longer, I could have swirled around with him in the Atlantic for a bit longer…


  3. It sounds lovely, Lisa. Having seen some of the places those monks used to live on the coast of west Ireland (specifically on the Dingle Peninsula) I’m amazed they survived long enough to tell any tales. And the Atlantic is far from calm, too.


    • LOL, it must have been a miracle, eh?


  4. I love the way those book designers recognised that reading can be a tactile as well as a cerebral experience.


    • Yes, I can think of only a few books that have this sense of holding something special in your hands…


  5. I love the sound of this, and another beautiful cover and interior as well. Reminds me of Rumi.


  6. […] legendary voyage of St Brendan of Clonfert in an exquisite edition published by Transit Lounge.  (See my review).  Reading Croggon’s book of the same name was not quite the same sensual experience – […]


  7. […] Something clicked into place when I came across the allusion to Brendan the Navigator’s shipwreck scenario. I think it explains the connection to Ireland as well.  This is from my review of Navigatio by Patrick Holland: […]


Please share your thoughts and join the conversation!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: