I LIVE by a canal now but I grew up at the sea. As a boy on the north coast of Ireland I’d shiver exhilarated in the Atlantic breakers. I once nearly drowned in an open air salt water pool. The teenage me fantasised about pulling salty kisses in the sand dunes from girls who didn’t even know I existed. The student me cleaned Northern Irish beaches every summer of seaweed and disposable nappies. One time I came onto the beach to find a baby whale washed ashore, an alien creature its skin pocked and scored by its short life underwater.

I live by a canal but even now I think of home as being at the edge of the land, beside the water, maybe, even though I’m a terrible swimmer, in it.

But then aren’t we all sea creatures, every one of us? “In the womb we swim in salty waters,” writes Philip Hoare in his new book, “sprouting residual fins and tails and rudimentary gills as we twist and turn in our little oceans.”

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Following Leviathan and The Sea Inside Us, Hoare has returned to the sea for the third time RISINGTIDEFALLINGSTAR. Like the notebook pulled from Percy Bysshe Shelley’s drowned corpse it is a waterlogged book, swimming in drowned sailors and dead poets.

Here is Sylvia Plath finding a short-lived happiness on Cape Cod with her husband Ted Hughes, here is Henry David Thoreau on the same cape coming across human bones washed up like driftwood. Here is Wilfred Owen sludging through the rising water in the trenches during the First World War. Here is Shelley’s body recovered from the sea burning on a pyre. “Then the corpse fell apart,” Hoare writes, “and the brains bubbled in their cranial cauldron.”

Death and destruction are never far away here. And a sometimes almost indecent fascination with both. At one point Hoare pulls the head off a dead avocet; “The muscles and oesophagus came away, dangling raw and red.” He even sticks his finger into a dead dolphin’s sex, “out of prurient curiosity.”

It’s a tidal book. Words swirl and eddy. At times reading it you can feel the land beneath your feet fall away and you begin to imagine the deep dark abyss that waits for us all.

Every story carries its own weight of sadness, even his own. “I remember my parents’ gaunt faces as, separated by a decade, they lay back on their respective beds, the tide gone out of them, their cheekbones as high as rocks on the shore.”

But in amongst all these deaths and disasters and drownings there is eager, indifferent life. Hoare himself strips off and dives into the water time and again, fishing for stories and bringing them back for us, listening into whale song or swimming among moon jellyfish in Bantry Bay, and delineating their “canopies flushed with pale mauve and shot through with deeper purple-blue gonad rings, all but flashing with fluorescence, as though powered by an electric current running through the water.”

It’s also a book about queerness – in all that word’s senses. The queerness of what Ted Hughes called “the whaled monstered sea-bottom,” yes. But also that of the aesthete Stephen Tennant dreaming about sailors, Wilfred Owen writing letters about his friend Russell which Owen’s brother would censor to protect his reputation and Hoare himself recognising and responding to the sexual otherness of David Bowie.

Bowie is a current that courses through the book. It even ends with a beautiful Mick Rock photograph of Bowie with an anchor drawn on his face, a Genet fantasy made flesh. Desire swims in all of us. We follow our own currents.

For a while, I must admit, I found myself paddling in the book’s shallows, intimidated a little by its depths, perhaps a little put off by the times when Hoare overreaches. (At one point when talking about the company of a friend’s dog he attempts to cast fresh eyes on the familiar. “It is Funktionslust; an animal’s pleasure in doing what it does well, in being itself.” But really it reads like someone trying too hard to explain what we already know.

But then I came to the chapter “Somethingamazing” where I soaked up the dazzle of ideas and associations. In the space of 40 pages Hoare takes us from Thoreau’s Walden Pond to Stephen Tennant on his deathbed via Daedelus, Nic Roeg’s film The Man Who Fell to Earth (and Walter Tevis’s novel that inspired it), Wolff’s Orlando, the first recording of whale song in the 1950s, Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, the petrochemical whiteness of the future as envisaged by the 1960s, Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Terence Stamp playing Billy Budd, Gatsby of course and Hoare’s first own visit to a nightclub. Wave after wave crashing around and over me. And I remember being that boy I was, the boy who stood in the waves at the top of Ireland, shocked and exhilarated.

What is this? An immersion. A homecoming. I hold my breath and go under again.

Philip Hoare will be at the Edinburgh International Book Festival on August 17. Visit edbookfest.co.uk