The Wild Places

Some times you wonder why you bother blogging, or thinking about your reading and sometimes even writing; it anyone listening?

But then sometimes you get feedback like that from John this week who responded to my Book of the Year post on this blog with suggestions about two books that I might like, including The Wild Places by Robert Macfarlane.

I read Mountains of the Mind by Macfarlane a few year ago now, and really enjoyed it. It charts the changes in the way the western imagination perceives wild places, especially mountains, from places of fear and loathing to places of awe and power and beauty.

So, how delighted I was, when I googled this new one, to read a Guardian review by Andrew Motion talking about Macfarlane and Sebald in the same breath (Sebald is an all time favourite and Andrew Motion is a poet who wrote a great biography of Philip Larkin which I enjoyed a lot. For part of Macfarlane’s journey in this book he’s accompanied by Roger Deakin, my book of the year author; all these things connect!).

Motion links Macfarlane and Sebald stylistically. This is the opening of the review:

As WG Sebald’s reputation took shape in the years after his tragic death, his writing was much praised for its originality. But in truth what felt new in his work had as much to do with subtle adaptations of tradition as it did with pioneering a brand new kind of non-fiction. The Rings of Saturn, for instance – in which a descriptive ramble along the edge of East Anglia is interspersed with more or less freestanding reflections on characters and ideas – has its roots in late 19th-and early 20th-century travelogues of the kind written by Edward Thomas. For a long time, these books have generally been considered unfashionably occasional (Thomas dismissed a lot of his own work as “hack writing”). Now, thanks to their informed fascination with environmental matters, and their habit of combining different genres, they seem more interesting again.

Robert Macfarlane doesn’t mention Sebald in The Wild Places, his follow-up to the elegant and highly successful Mountains of the Mind, but his method owes an obvious debt – as it also does to the traditions on which Sebald drew and to Thomas in particular. His account of visits to various remote places in order to evoke their spirit of wildness is punctuated with reflections on climate change, on destruction of habitat, on individuals met along the way and others who hover in the wings of history, on kindred-spirit writers, and on larger matters of time and belonging. In this respect, Macfarlane places himself in the company of people such as Iain Sinclair and Mark Cocker, who have also drawn on late-Romantic models in their own work. The Wild Places is a book that inhales the zeitgeist, as well as the fresh air of open country. [GUARDIAN]

Of course, The Wild Places has gone straight to the top of my wishlist! Thanks John.


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