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Shining at the Bottom of the Sea

3.39  ·  Rating Details  ·  132 Ratings  ·  27 Reviews
A virtuoso performance from an emerging new literary talent who crafts a vividly drawn history of an imaginary country.

In this stylistic tour de force, Stephen Marche creates the entire culture of a place called Sanjania-its national symbols, political movements, folk heroes, a group of writers dubbed "fictioneers," a national airline called Sanjair, and a rich literary
Hardcover, 256 pages
Published August 2nd 2007 by Riverhead Hardcover (first published 2007)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 360)
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Jason Pettus
Nov 15, 2007 Jason Pettus rated it it was amazing
(My full review of this book is much longer than the excerpt posted below; find it at the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography [].)

There is of course a long and proud tradition here in the West of elaborate histories concerning made-up places; take JRR Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" series, as perhaps the most famous example of all. But now imagine that the made-up land in question is designed deliberately to mix with our real world, geography and history -- for example, t
Jan 01, 2009 Paula rated it it was amazing
Marche has concocted a fictive anthology of the imagined national literature of a pretend island in the North Atlantic, Sanjania, a purported former British colony: a fiction from first to last page, from Foreward and Preface to Biographical Notes and Acknowledgements. At first I was skeptical of the conceit but Marche pulls it off, I think with grace, wit and an impressive ability to shift style and voice to create not just distinctive characters but distinctive authors. This is a book, however ...more
Aug 09, 2011 Brett rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I picked up this book solely on the precis on the dust jacket. I was curious - could the author pull off this conceit, or would it simply turn out to be a clever gimmick that went horribly wrong? I must say I was MORE than impressed by this clever yet READABLE "novel". Its very form makes me question what constitutes a novel.

There is no linear plot, per se. Instead, the book is an anthology of short stories which chronicle the history of literature on the fictitious island of Sanjania. And yet,
Oct 19, 2010 Mary rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The structure of this book is intriguing - Marche has made up an entire island nation in the North Atlantic, part of the British Commonwealth, and created an anthology of writings as well as a literary history and literary criticism. Some of the selections are particularly fun - A Wedding in Restitution reminded me a bit of the fantastical stories with a grain of truth from the movie Big Fish - and there is a criticism of Robinson Crusoe purportedly written by Friday which is delightful. The Mas ...more
Marjorie Hakala
May 04, 2008 Marjorie Hakala rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: lit geeks and the adventurous
Following on Possession, another work of alternate literary history, this time an anthology of literature from an imaginary North Atlantic island country called Sanjania (Sanjan Island before that, Saint John Island sometime when the first Europeans stumbled upon it). Because so few people seem to have taken much interest in this book, I'm going to assume it was written for me: it's at once deeply bookwormish and deeply concerned with the role of place in literature, which is one of my primary ...more
Elizabeth Kiem
Aug 22, 2015 Elizabeth Kiem rated it it was amazing
Re-read this summer en route to Scotland and again delighted over the ambiguities of Sanjania, a fictional but so delectable and familiar British colony in the North Sea populated by archaic anglos and, apparently, natives of warmer climes. Mesmerizing and so so smart. I am one of those who appreciated the faux scholarship and painstaking footnotes even more than the strange tales themselves. Shades of Cloud Atlas (only the best shades) packaged in fine metawrap.
Mar 28, 2008 Jennifer rated it really liked it
Recommended to Jennifer by: 2008 Tournament of Books
Shining at the Bottom of the Sea definitely gets points for originality. Marche actually invents an island called Sanjania, and creates not only a history , but a literary history as well. Basically, this book is a collection of short stories that reflect Sanjania's history. The stories start out with unique dialect that portrays the early 1900's, and slowly gets "cleaner" over the years, especially after the "Clean Movement" approach to writing that united the dialects of different coves into o ...more
Dec 28, 2008 Spiros rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: those who are embarrassed to be seen with fantasy novels
Shelves: remainders
Compendia always tend to be hit-or-miss; compendia of literarture from imaginary cultures probably will inevitably miss more than they hit. Some of the earlier pieces in this anthology of Sanjanian literature are engaging; as the Sanjan culture evolves into Sanjania, the stories and criticism become more pallid and didactic, which may well have been the effect Marche was aiming for, but doesn't really do the reader any favors.
Another problem, over and above the quality of the writing, is the que
Moses Operandi
Mar 22, 2009 Moses Operandi rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Megan, in particular
Shelves: readandenjoyed
Upon my second reading, Shining at the Bottom of the Sea proved to be just as enchanting as it was at first. This is a staggeringly inventive collection of fictional short stories, pretending to be a scholarly collection of the best short stories from Sanjania, a small independent island in the North Atlantic. If I knew a little less about the world, reading this book would compel me to buy a ticket to Sanjania on the next plane. Knowing as I do that this is a work of fiction is strangely disapp ...more
Eliza Allen
Feb 17, 2012 Eliza Allen rated it it was ok
This book was an interesting concept about creating an imagined culture and writing an anthology style collection of that culture's most important literary works, However, it was not a page turner and took me five months to read its mere 200 pages (just because it never pulled the reader in that much). Its advanced vocabulary was well used, and it was a topic outside of my normal book choice, which I suppose made the read worthwhile.
Sep 03, 2007 Eoin rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: elaborate liars
Unrepeatably perfect. I'm a sucker for elaborate lies, but Marche succeeds on the order of Carey's Kelly Gang without even the folklore backgrounding. The man wrote a beautiful, wideranging anthology of an imaginary culture, complete with criticism. Tlon? Funeary Violin? The only way this could have been done better, is if the book didn't weren't listed as "Experimental Fiction" in the Library of Congress. Astonishing. I am astonished.
Rick Angell
Mar 10, 2008 Rick Angell rated it really liked it
Fabulously creative. The author, via an "anthology" of the literary history of the fiction of the fictional authors of the fictional country he creates, gives you a window into a North Atlantic island culture he imagines in beautiful detail. Plus, each of the stories is written in a unique, interesting voice. The comparison to David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas is obvious and neither work suffers by its association with the other.
Elizabeth Beck
Oct 29, 2013 Elizabeth Beck rated it it was amazing
Brilliant and devastatingly beautiful. Rich with ideas about individual and collective identity and the mystery of it. Mad respect for Marche for building a whole history and literature for a fictitious island and managing to illustrate truths of reality via magical realism. Not all of the stories grabbed me, but most of them did. And the ones that really did... Damn. They haunt me.
Jul 27, 2010 Melissa rated it liked it
Due to a frustrating printing error found in all copies at both Brooklyn and New York Public Libraries, I was 70 pages away from the end of this until I broke down and bought a cheap remaindered copy from Amazon. After all that... well, the fragmented reading experience made it hard to come away with a great opinion of this, but I appreciated its inventiveness.
Jul 25, 2012 jennifer rated it liked it
Shelves: kindle
Torn. This had some breathtakingly beautiful passages and I appreciate the mock, Nabakovian kind of exercise of "inventing a literature" -- and it probably was handled fairly deftly -- but it's still one of those things where I'm going to have to go back and read it from almost a paper-writing perspective to completely appreciate. So probably won't.
Aug 21, 2007 Jenn rated it really liked it
The author has invented and peopled a mythical but absolutely plausible island, Sanjania, and this book "collects" pamphlets and writings from various Sanjanian authors. The individual pieces are mostly very sweet, and I was fascinated by the invented patois and slang. It's a really big concept, and executed beautifully.
Nov 05, 2013 Meaghan rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction, can-lit
I really liked the idea of this book and the way that Marche has created his own fictional country. I wanted to love this book, because the vision of it is so interesting, but in practice only a few of the stories really caught my attention.
Lisa Vandepol
Jun 19, 2013 Lisa Vandepol rated it did not like it
Shelves: extra
I didn't / couldn't finish this book. More like a chronological collection if very short stories from the same country. No characters to follow, no climax, no end in sight.
Jun 26, 2008 Colin rated it it was ok
Wasn't so into it -- the first few stories grabbed my but they seemed to grow progressively more implausible as individual pieces of lit as they went on. . .

nifty idea, though
Nov 12, 2007 Heather rated it it was ok
Didn't finish this. Interesting idea (an anthology of stories purporting to be by different authors from an invented country) but execution was pretentious and often quite boring.
Dec 20, 2010 P. rated it really liked it
This was really impressive as an intellectual exercise AND as separate works of fiction. I'm glad I bought it instead of getting it from the library.
Ali Mills
Nov 07, 2008 Ali Mills rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
this is possibly the only book that i have read through and immediately started reading again.

actually, i know this is the only book.

Dec 22, 2011 Mike rated it liked it
Terrific idea of organizing a book and telling a story. The details and back story of characters was well done.
Apr 24, 2008 kirsten rated it liked it
had to get it out of one library twice and then another to finish because of a misprint. still pretty good.
Nov 25, 2013 Adam rated it it was ok
Made it 20% through. Intriguing ideas, clumsy writing, frustratingly executed.
Jan 03, 2009 Ciara rated it liked it
Spectacular premise for a novel; a bit slow in the execution.
Jun 22, 2009 Jessica rated it it was ok
I really wanted to like it.
Rachel marked it as to-read
Jul 19, 2016
Kris marked it as to-read
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Stephen Marche is the author of The Hunger of the Wolf (2015), Love and the Mess We’re In (2013), How Shakespeare Changed Everything (2012), Shining at the Bottom of the Sea (2007) and Raymond and Hannah (2005). He currently writes “A Thousand Words About Our Culture,” a monthly column for Esquire magazine, and “Close Reading,” a weekly column for The National Post, in addition to opinion pieces f ...more
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