Did I say Ronald Blythe today?
Sorry, wrong, thought I'd stay with the animal theme going on lately, first red dogs, then hares, now The Snow Geese. This is the most incredible book of them all though and one I’ve had to make last because, by his own admission, William Fiennes is no Barbara Cartland when it comes to producing books, two in seven years.
I'm a bit upset that I'll be past sixty (deo volente) by the time the third one arrives but if I get as old as Barbara Cartland that'll be another five books to look forward to from Will, so mustn't grumble.
Having loved everything about The Music Room I wasn’t too sure how that could be surpassed and I’m not sure it has, these books just weigh equally on the balance registering superb.
Taken seriously ill in his mid-twenties and debilitated from several rounds of major abdominal surgery (forget my keyholes, we must be talking letter boxes) William Fiennes found himself back in his childhood bedroom at the castle and returned once more to the state of a child dependent upon his parents for care as he recovered.
Coming across an old childhood copy of Paul Gallico’s The Snow Goose was the inspiration for a journey to emotional recovery once physically healed. William Fiennes set off on his own odyssey to follow the migration trail of the snow goose from its winter sojourn in the American south to summer breeding grounds on Baffin Island in the far north of Canada.
The plan was to journey with the birds, by Greyhound, by train however, but along the way there were people to meet, strangers who become friends and traveling companions thus providing the perfect medium for memoir writing. Except something else Will mentioned at Dartington was that some books need to be released from genres, to be allowed to stand alone and be what they want to be, this is much more than memoir. He also revealed that this book is often misfiled in bookshops under ‘Pet Care.’
Often effaced from the encounter and certainly offering no opinions or judgments on the people he met, William Fiennes allows us to get to know them as if meeting them ourselves.
At Dartington, someone asked the question,
‘What did you think about the Americans that you met in The Snow Geese?’
and William replied that he felt blessed by the encounters as may anyone who reads this book.
Who can forget the ex-nun forced by the Mother Superior to sleep with any item they broke and finding herself in bed with a statue of St Joseph, accidentally toppled...at least you have a man in your bed the others griped. Or the sock knitting Viking or Marshall the ex-hobo riding the Hudson Bay Railway for old times’ sake, (times being nineteen) or Ruth the quilter.
I might not have spotted it but Will did reveal that whilst The Music Room had settled into a quartet, The Snow Geese settled into a gentle and rhythmical octet of storytelling , eight alternating parts, journey – sojourn and finally a homecoming for both the geese as they arrive in Foxe Land and for Will as he contemplates what home means
‘Not all returns are retreats, and if I wanted to go home, it wasn’t a dream of escape, it was because love can’t exist without the pain of separation, and so much of what I loved was there.’
Homesickness designated a name in 1688 and termed nostalgia, now of course meaning something quite different but then recognised as
‘continues sadness, meditation only on the Fatherland, disturbed sleep...decrease of strength, hunger, thirst, senses diminished...palpitations of the heart, frequent sighs, also stupidity of the mind.’
And genuinely believed at that time only to afflict the
Swiss and connected to the descent from high alpine meadows to the lowlands. One
little person came immediately to mind, though Will doesn’t mention her, but
it’s Johanna Spyri’s Heidi of course and how ill she became when sent from her
Alpine home to Frankfurt to be a companion to Clara.
The writing is exquisitely beautiful, I took this journey too though was thankful to bypass the actual moment when, sporting a parka that felt like ‘wearing a bungalow’, Will faced up to the inevitable meal that was likely to be served up as he travels with the hunters out to track the plentiful and nicely plump snow geese to their breeding grounds.
This is a book to treasure and read again and again, especially perhaps when the logistics of actually doing a journey defeat you yet perhaps you still have that yearning to travel somewhere, so it was a natural progression for me to access the Inner Child and read and love Paul Gallico's The Snow Goose all over again too.
Beautiful, all utterly heart-stoppingly beautiful.