Richard Mabey's Nature Cure - part 'breath of fresh air', part draught whistling through an ill-fitting window (there are times when one wants to move out of its reach). That sums up my feelings about the book; some of the writing was marvellous and it was pure pleasure to read, and then there were points where the author gets in his own way, galumphing about the place and tripping himself up, but to be fair this is a very personal memoir, in part to do with recovery from serious illness - and I have tremendous sympathy for him there.
To the positives, and there are many in this account of how the author regains his imaginative relationship with the world beyond himself, his 'nature cure' for severe depression. His knowledge is vast, his reading wide, his appreciation of the sensuous aspects of the natural world intense and informed, his ability to render them in eloquent prose high. When he simply looks and listens and takes in what is before him, that experiential chain - from the observing to the thinking/feeling and on to their expression - is a rewarding path for a reader to follow. He describes perfect moments such as coming upon a white stag snoozing in a wash of bluebells, "as astonishing a sight as a unicorn", or he sees a common plant such as comfrey but notes its "starched linen, wine goblet flowers", and he reminds us that "that is the benediction of the wild, to see opportunity in the briefest of openings, the narrowest of windows".
Elsewhere, he can be peevish and superior, dissatisfied with the sights and sounds around him, wanting something more, something other, though he is self-aware enough to recognise these tendencies, and is happier when he suppresses them. I admire his honesty in revealing his very human flaws.
I heard a snatch of Richard Mabey on a radio programme this week in which he said "I'm not really a country person at all", and it is true that he comes across more as 'foreign observer' than 'native' one, if I can put it that way, the outsider trying to look in, but still his feel for the natural world is an appealing mixture of the scholarly and the intuitive. There's a lot about birds* in this book, and as someone who is a fearedy when it comes to most of those creatures (though I loved and admired William Fiennes's The Snow Geese), I could have done with a bit less, and more instead on plants, especially trees. But what you do get are wonderful passages about poetry and places and occasionally people, customs and ways - for instance, I now know not to build my wattle and daub house with willow, for it will sprout (though that image has its charm and makes me think of Yeats), and that "woods have ancient and mischievous rhythms all their own", I liked his reference to Christopher Smart's Jubilate Agno and his greater vision for mankind, "[to] tread all the measure upon the music".
In short, I liked the book very much indeed. How about you?
*London readers may like to know that Richard Mabey will be talking about nightingales - and music - on the 15th. of April at Somerset House. Details here.
The 'Books and Cakes' post for Nature Cure is now up. You'll find it here.