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Haunts of Black Masseur

The Swimmer as Hero

2000
Author:

Charles Sprawson

Haunts of Black Masseur

A lustrous examination of life in the water from Percy Bysshe Shelley to Esther Williams.

A dizzying cultural history of water worship. Great trivia knows no decline. Sprawson has a genius for bizarre bits of water lore, a talent that makes Haunts of the Black Masseur compulsive, almost guilty reading. Of course it’s useless to think how one would have done this thing differently. The truth is, no one but Sprawson would have done it all.

Miami Herald

Haunts of Black Masseur

Charles Sprawson lives in London. He recently swam the Hellespont.

Haunts of Black Masseur

A dizzying cultural history of water worship. Great trivia knows no decline. Sprawson has a genius for bizarre bits of water lore, a talent that makes Haunts of the Black Masseur compulsive, almost guilty reading. Of course it’s useless to think how one would have done this thing differently. The truth is, no one but Sprawson would have done it all.

Miami Herald

In this beautifully written book, he has compiled a host of anecdotes spanning many centuries and woven them carefully with his own experiences. The result is a minor masterpiece that conveys the author’s love of his subject with a grace akin to that he attributes to the swimmers whose exploits form his subject matter. So mellow is Mr. Sprawson’s prose and so passionate and firm his grasp of the subject that even a hydrophobe reading this book may find his fears momentarily suspended, wishing he could say with the author that he has spent ‘much of my life in pursuit of interesting pools.’

Washington Times

Charles Sprawson is that English marvel, the insatiable browser, the snapper-up of unconsidered trifles, just as long as they pertain to swimming; categorically speaking, he is a mix of Izaak Walton and Sacheverell Sitwell.

New York Times Book Review

Sprawson has produced a delightful, profound cultural and literary history of swimming, bathing and the social meanings of water from ancient Greece to the modern Olympics.

Publishers Weekly

Positively liquescent with brilliant images and insights.

Kirkus

Charles Sprawson’s wide-ranging book explores the growing fascination with the pleasures and dangers of swimming from the nineteenth century cowards, through an examination of the lives of writers and artists and cultural heroes.

Independent on Sunday

Swimming—as sport and myth—is the subject of Charles Sprawson’s elegant essay on the cultural and psychological meaning given to the activity in various times and climes.

New York Magazine

Intriguing.

The Atlantic

This oddly charming book is about swimming in much the same way the Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is about Harley-Davidsons, which is to say that readers looking for an instruction manual had best look elsewhere. Haunts of the Black Masseur is a meditation on both the act of swimming and on its cultural, literary, and psychological meaning. Sprawson writes about all this uncommonly well, making a strong case for swimming as metaphor, but what he does best of all is write about swimming itself. Without lapsing into mere rhapsodizing, he brings alive on the page the pleasures of water and of measuring oneself against it. Reading Haunts of the Black Masseur is like standing beside a cool pool on a steamy summer day; the temptation to leap in is irresistible.

Washington Post Book World

Packed with fascinating tales of swimming exploits in history and literature, and with accounts of immersion in lochs, fjords, straits, and torrents all over the world, Sprawson’s splendid and wholly original book is as zestful as a plunge in champagne.

Iris Murdoch, New York Review of Books

For all the cascade of comic, eccentric, sometimes touching detail, it is the submarine presence of Sprawson’s own personality which creates this book’s strangely mesmeric quality. On the surface, Haunts of the Black Masseur, which is fluently and elegantly written, is a descriptive work. But underneath, we feel, it is the product of an obsession.

New Yorker

Sprawson’s prose is sharp and his research extensive. The author weaves the innumerable pieces of the swimmer’s collage with the common thread of the hero. In our ever-changing world the constant is a permanent fascination, almost a fatal attraction for water, and Sprawson cleverly highlights it in his book.

Aethlon: Journal of Sport Literature