Sea State: A Memoir
At its heart, this is a story about men whose lives are filled with toxic masculinity in a world without women — on oil rigs off Scotland. But it’s also a story of a woman looking for her place in the world who goes there to write about the men.
A Recommended Read from: Vogue * USA Today * The Los Angeles Times * Publishers Weekly * The Week * Alma * Lit Hub
A stunning and brutally honest memoir that shines a light on what happens when female desire conflicts with a culture of masculinity in crisis
In her midthirties and newly free from a terrible relationship, Tabitha Lasley quit her job at a London magazine, packed her bags, and poured her savings into a six-month lease on an apartment in Aberdeen, Scotland. She decided to make good on a long-deferred idea for a book about oil rigs and the men who work on them. Why oil rigs? She wanted to see what men were like with no women around.
In Aberdeen, Tabitha became deeply entrenched in the world of roughnecks, a teeming subculture rich with brawls, hard labor, and competition. The longer she stayed, the more she found her presence had a destabilizing effect on the men—and her.
Sea State is on the one hand a portrait of an overlooked industry: “offshore” is a way of life for generations of primarily working-class men and also a potent metaphor for those parts of life we keep at bay—class, masculinity, the transactions of desire, and the awful slipperiness of a ladder that could, if we tried hard enough, lead us to security.
Sea State is on the other hand the story of a journalist whose professional distance from her subject becomes perilously thin. In Aberdeen, Tabitha gets high and dances with abandon, reliving her youth, when the music was good and the boys were bad. Twenty years on, there is Caden: a married rig worker who spends three weeks on and three weeks off. Alone and in an increasingly precarious state, Tabitha dives into their growing attraction. The relationship, reckless and explosive, will lay them both bare.
Praise for Sea State: A Memoir
“Lasley is a gifted interlocutor.... The book’s hybrid of ethnography, journalism and disclosure might have been disastrous in the hands of someone without Lasley’s candor and style. Instead, “Sea State” accomplishes what many memoirs do not: It organizes a messy life with a clear vision.” — New York Times Book Review
“A singular and refreshingly candid travel memoir.” — Los Angeles Times
“A peculiar and entrancing blend of memoir and reportage…. Smart about sexual desire and the ease of analyzing — but the difficulty of escaping — familiar gender roles, Sea State offers a close up view of the white, working-class resentments that helped fuel both Brexit and the Trump presidency.” — Maureen Corrigan, NPR’s Fresh Air
“Lasley’s memoir is at its best…a validation of failure, no matter how self-inflicted, as a story in its own right—one that can be told just as well as any other.” — The Nation
“A sharp take on masculinity, class and the intoxicating danger of attraction.” — People
"The hybrid work of memoir and unconventional journalism chronicles Lasley’s doomed romance with Caden alongside a consideration of the dangers of a life of oil extraction. Along the way, she learns not to trust her assumptions about men like Caden, places like Aberdeen, and women like herself." — The Atlantic
“Sea State is so many things at once: an exploration of class, masculinity, desire, and the ways in which the work we do defines us. But alongside these huge subjects, it’s quite simply the story of a young woman who is lonely and finds herself in close proximity to a lot of lonely men. I was so impressed by how deftly Tabitha Lasley moves between the personal and the academic, and how much authority she maintains throughout. This is a truly powerful memoir.” — Mary Beth Keane, author of Ask Again, Yes
“Sea State is, itself, a hybrid of sorts: an investigation that is also a confession but reads a lot like a novel. It is a startlingly original study of love, masculinity and the cost of a profession that few outside of it can truly understand. The cost to Lasley herself is yet to be revealed.” — The Guardian
"Lasley has written a unique book, a cross between Bill Buford’s Among the Thugs and Simone de Beauvoir’s The Prime of Life: reportage on the English working class that is also a lucid travelogue." — BookForum
“A raw, bold, unsparing memoir.” — Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Acidic, addictive reporting . . . Sea State’s writing alone is worth the admission price.” — Financial Times
“These are powerful and moving stories of working lives in a dangerous and all-male environment, made all the more powerful by the way Lasley refuses to absent herself from the telling." — The Millions
"In this breathtaking debut, Lasley, a former journalist, interrogates class, love, and politics as she chronicles the months she spent interviewing offshore oil riggers in Aberdeen, Scotland… Rendered in irresistible prose, her whirlwind affair becomes a humanizing subplot and an arresting character study of the prototypical oil rigger, one who compartmentalizes home and work, wife and mistress, lavish spending and crushing isolation. The result is a compassionate portrayal of what it takes to survive an inhospitable corner of the world." — Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Grippingly candid and savagely self-aware.” — Esquire (UK)
"In these accounts of the offshore men who do our dirty work for us, Tabitha Lasley has struck black gold. These are powerful and moving stories of working lives in a dangerous and all-male environment, made all the more powerful by the way Lasley refuses to absent herself from the telling. The writing is carefully and unobtrusively polished, with hard edges and unflinching clarity, and a memorable turn of phrase. Sea State marks the arrival of a gifted and exciting new voice." — Jon McGregor, author of Reservoir 13
“By any measure it’s extraordinary. It takes you to places so few books do.” — The Observer
“Reading Lasley’s prose is like having a long conversation with someone highly intelligent, intuitive and more sensitive than she dares let on.” — The Spectator
“[Lasley] has the skill, a Joan Didion kind of skill, of inflecting non-fiction material subjectively, a habit of assessing situations via her nervous system. . . . Sea State has all the presentness of fiction, as well as the exactitude of the non-fiction novel and the gleam of confession. [Lasley] conjures an industry and a place, but much more than that, she shows us the men themselves, and their relation to her, a mysterious tale of love and fear.”
— Andrew O’Hagan, London Review of Books
"Piercing, brutally candid, addictive. Sea State is a memoir like no other: one of the best I've read about men and women, about social class and, above all, about female desire. If you were gripped by Lisa Taddeo's Three Women, this is for you." — Rachel Cooke, author of Her Brilliant Career
"A breathtakingly bold, honest and original book, I didn't want it to end." — Decca Aitkenhead, author of All at Sea
"Tabitha Lasley throws herself into a dangerous, liminal world and crawls back battered, chastened, bearing a haul glittering with insight. Brilliantly propulsive." — Aida Edemariam, author of The Wife's Tale