Review: No Signposts in the Sea by Vita Sackville-West

My family visited Knole in 2019 and it was there that I first heard of Vita Sackville-West. I was struck by the injustice of her loving Knole and wanting to live there but not being allowed to inherit because she was a woman. Vita Sackville-West was a prolific author and the bookshop at Knole had a number of her books in stock and I decided to read “No Signposts in the Sea” as it felt most accessible to me.

Published a year before her death, one of the things that made “No Signposts in the Sea” interesting to me is that it appeared to contain autobiographical elements in it and so I thought I might gain some insight into the authors character.

In the story, journalist Edmund Carr learns that he has only a short time to live and so leaves his job to take passage on a ship on which he knows that Laura, an intelligent and attractive widow he is secretly infatuated with is also a passenger.

The Virago 1985 edition (reprinted in 2013) that I bought, contains an introduction by Victoria Glendinning which provides a better review of the book that I can provide here. The introduction concludes that “No Signposts in the Sea” is not a great novel: the characters are somewhat two-dimensional in the case of Colonel Dalrymple, Edmund has a background that does not make a lot of sense given his character, and the views expressed in the book are very much a product of Vita Sackville-West’s age and class. The introduction also says this novel is the nearest Vita Sackville-West got to writing about her views on marriage and how her social and emotional complexity both made and marred her own marriage to Harold Nicolson.

That said, I did enjoy reading the book, although I found it frustrating at times and how dense Edmund could be. Also, the British-colonial attitude towards foreigners displayed in the book was quite jarring at times. After finishing the book I largely agreed with Victoria Glendinning’s introduction.