The Wainwright Prize long list has been the focus of my reading for a while now and with short list day tomorrow I am squeezing in a round-up.
So far I have shared thoughts on...
But I have been tramping my way through more in recent weeks and have now finished reading...
Weatherland by Alexandra Harris
The Moth Snowstorm by Michael McCarthy
The Fish Ladder by Katharine Norbury
This before running out of steam for the natural world and taking a bit of a break with the War of the Roses.
I wonder if this happens to you?
Too much of the same, mind suddenly sated and the need to shift to another genre.
The respite genre in question quite took me by surprise. Toby Clements Kingmaker trilogy. Book Three Divided Souls arrived with this on the cover...
'An enthralling, honest and powerful re-imagining of the Wars of the Roses.' said Hilary Mantel.
I had never heard of Toby Clements, or this trilogy so I quickly Kindled Book One Winter Pilgrims, had read the first hundred pages in quick order and have now moved onto the audio version....engrossing and dare I say a welcome distraction right now.
But I digress, back to The Wainwright list and as it's a prize list here are my honest thoughts on those read so far...
The Fish Ladder is an account of Katharine Norbury's intention to walk to the source of a river. Initially any river until settling on the river in Dunbeath in Scotland. The journey becomes a quest for identity as Katharine Norbury traces her own beginnings...the mother who gave her up for adoption at birth and along the way other life traumas intervene to make this a voyage of personal discovery.
On finding the convent, also a private nursing home, where she had been born, and finding nuns who remembered her birth and her naming, Katharine is furnished with new information about herself that those those of us not in her position might always have taken for granted...
'It was as if I had been given a coat that turned out to be a perfect fit without ever having realising I was cold.'
If I had one worry about the whole venture it was Katherine Norbury's seeming lack of planning involved in the final expedition. It all seemed a bit blasé...driving up to Scotland, buying the map the day before and the rescue sack (we never set foot on Dartmoor without one so I was slightly relieved) and then walking out alone across unknown territory with no prior knowledge and seemingly no permission, a night's sleep in an unknown place. I can't help it, I'm the mother of a gamekeeper...supposing someone is out night shooting, deer-stalking maybe and assumes the land, if private, is empty. I know how careful they are and I'm sure it was all ticketyboo behind the scenes, we just weren't told, but it all worried me no end so I was glad when the expedition was over, no harm befell and I could carry on to the end of the book which I enjoyed. The analogies with Atlantic salmon finding their way back up to the head of the same river year after year, returning to their origins and the search for a birth identity weren't lost on this reader who lives in a fishing household.
The Moth Snowstorm by Michael McCarthy had me a little worried from the start, then was constantly winning me over and losing me again I know we need to know that it isn't all 'primroses and otters' out there and it can only be a good thing that people are writing about the ecological disaster that is happening under our noses, but the veil between my capacity to embrace it, or to be worried sick about it seems to be getting thinner and more porous as I get older, books like this can make me feel miserable and pessimistic so I tend to avoid them.
It can be uncomfortable difficult reading that leaves me feeling powerless, others might call it burying my head in the sand, but I suspect many of you will understand the dilemma.
Either way I don't want to detract from the fact that The Moth Snowstorm might just be the book that is the base block on which all other nature writing can stand. It almost explains the existence, the plethora and popularity of it all at the moment, the rush to preserve on paper what is being lost.
Interspersed with the present is a wonderful ode to the joy of nature encouraging the return of an intense and un-self-conscious delight in it all, an urging towards awe and wonder. There was also a look-back on a 1950's boyhood which, when I read bits out to Bookhound he recognised instantly. Collecting birds' eggs and butterflies for starters and what about the cards in Brooke Bond PG Tips. We collected them avidly and I still have the albums to prove it. If you are better than I am at dealing with the harsh realities then this will be an important book to lay your hands on.
Weatherlands is a massive literary achievement presented in a very beautifully designed and printed book. Production values are always high with Thames & Hudson, good quality paper and a layout that incorporates matte pictures with the relevant text, rather than as a glossy chunk in the middle and providing me with a good solid month of reading. By the detailed examination of references to the weather in the work of a plethora of English writers and artists, Alexandra Harris has created a fantastic resource, a book which, having read cover to cover I would refer to again and again in the future when any given writer or artist's name arises, because they all had something to say about the weather and they are all in here. It is a literary focus to which I had never really given much thought, but once someone else does I couldn't fail to see how obvious it was and how fascinating it was.
I also loved the sections, printed on grey paper, which elaborated on some aspect of the weather itself; the account of big freeze of the Thames in 1683 was particularly intriguing. Overnight the river stopped flowing and the painting by Abraham Hondius reveals just how dramatic this must have been...
Amongst the artists I have emerged feeling I feel I must explore more...Turner and Constable, among the poets Coleridge. Yes, altogether Weatherlands a truly inspirational book.
So by my reckoning four more books on the long list to go and I have three of them lined up ready to read and will get to them whether they make the short list or not...
Common Ground - Rob Cowen
Being a Beast - Charles Foster
Coastlines - Patrick Barkham
If you have read any of these please do share thoughts and also any short list predictions.