Sharks, Death, Surfers – An Illustrated Companion

Sharks, Death, Surfers – An Illustrated Companion

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We encounter the world through surfaces: the screen, the page, our skin, the ocean’s swell. Here on the sea is the surfer, positioned at the edge of the collapsing wave. And lurking underneath in a monstrous mirroring is the shark. When the two meet, carving along the surface, breaking through the boundary, is when death appears.

Steering her analysis from the newspaper obituary in and out of literature and past cinema, Melissa McCarthy investigates a fundamental aspect of the human condition: our state of being between life and death, always in precarious and watery balance. Sharks, Death, Surfers: An Illustrated Companion observes how sharks have been depicted over centuries and across cultures, then flips the lens (and dissects the cornea) to consider what sharks see when they look back. 

These refracted lines of inquiry—optical, philosophical, historical—converge at the focal point where we can fix the image of the surfer and the shark. This is the picture McCarthy ends up framing: the cartilaginous companions gliding together in a perfect model of how to read, navigate, and exist.


Melissa McCarthy is a writer based in Edinburgh. Previous books that she has edited or coauthored include works on documentary filmmaking and on incarceration. She has worked as a film curator and arts journalist in London and Durban, South Africa.