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I'll need to look out for this. I recently read his 'Weeds' which is an excellent history of human relationships with plants.


I'm only on page 44, and struggling ...

Dark Puss

I loved his descriptions of the birds, particularly sharing in his delight of Red Kites in the Chilterns. I share your reservations about this book and in the end I didn't really warm to the theme. I felt that he couldn't really make up his mind as to whether he was writing a memoir or whether he was writing another book about nature and I felt it fell between both stools. His knowledge and reading is indeed significant, though his brief discourse on the origin of flint in chalk soil had me reaching for the nearest friendly geologist who gave me the correct explanation. I noted that his enthusiasm for eating young hop shoots appears to have diminished slightly since Food for Free where he is rather more enthusiastic about "poor mans asparagus".

 Barbara MacLeod

There are some people who, when they rotate into my orbit, drag me down. I deal with this social handicap by saying to myself “15 minutes and I’m off!” *

One of the features of their conversation is their excessive use of the personal pronoun, i.e. where you or I might say “I must wash the floor.” they would say “I must wash my floor.” (You can see where this is leading....!)

So my antennae were already twitching from the start. This book is peppered with “me” “myself” and “I”. Where I find these sort of people dreary beyond words ... you guessed it ... this book was simply dreary beyond words.

Yes, it is an autobiography but I have neither Cornflower’s compassion nor Dark Puss’s balanced view. Fortunately in the world of books, any kind of books, one has the option to simply close it. Thank goodness I wasn't on a long sailing passage with this as my limited reading matter! It would have gone straight overboard!

Just after I abandoned this book I picked up McCall Smith’s The Uncommon Appeal of Clouds in our local Oxfam shop. Well, I couldn’t believe my eyes when I ran across a word (on page 29) he used that I had never heard of: “heart-sink”. As he put it in the narrative “We all have people in our lives we don’t really choose as friends but with whom we’re, well, lumbered, I suppose. Heart-sink friends. Have you heard that expression?”

As they say in these parts “yer aye learnin’ !”

Dark Puss

The term "heart-sink" in the phrase "heart-sink patient" has long been used in the medical profession.

Susan in TX

I, too, enjoyed this one with a few reservations. He did get tedious in places, but I found this one worth finishing. I loved his anticipation of the swifts, swallows, and martins returning. We share that anticipation every year with our purple martins. They were early this year, so we've been enjoying their predawn chorus since March 1. Knowing how much we look forward to our birds returning each year, I was especially moved with compassion for Mabey when he described his hearing loss and the great lengths he went to to find the right combination of hearing aids that returned to him his ability to hear them. I think this was the point in the book where I forgave him for some of his earlier peevishness.


Barbara, I wasn't planning on leaving a comment but you have explained far more lucidly and politely why I gave this author half a dozen pages before he bored me to tears. Other people's depression does not make good company and I couldn't rake up enough compassion to stay the course. I could see that the act of writing might be cathartic but why inflict it on strangers!
But Cornflower has chosen the life-enhancing Enchanted April as a antidote!

Julie Fredericksen

Karen, because of your kind comments on my blog, I know you realize why I was not able to finish the book. However, I was struggling mightily through the few pages I did manage to read. I'd have to agree with Mary, Barbara and Chris on this one. However, I do hope to join all of you in discussing The Enchanted April. As Mary said, it should be a life-enhancing antidote.

Mr Cornflower

This is the kind of book, and even more so the kind of person, which at best inspires guarded respect rather than affection or enjoyment. Part of the problem is that the attempt to blend together three separate themes doesn't always work neatly. There's the nature writing which is as others have said fine and sensitive; there's the depression and recovery narrative to which the most humane response is a sigh of sympathy; and then in the background there is the long tradition of English rural leftism, which is great for those whose pulses quicken at the mention of the Levellers, John Clare, and the mass trespass on Kinder Scout, but which antagonises or simply bores everyone else. It was a struggle to finish this one; the only thing that kept me going was the fact that at various points on the uphill track the clouds parted and we caught a fleeting but magnificent glimpse of the landscape below us.


I feel relieved to find that I wasn't the only one that struggled with reading this book. I got bored and distracted sometimes, and had to read the same chapters twice.But there are some parts I like in this book: the descriptions of the landscapes and geography and nature in East Anglia were so fascinating that I Googled the images while reading (it seems beautiful but a very wet area. Even Scotland is too wet for me). I felt sympathetic for the author's illness and anxiety, and also admire his honest and accurate accounts of them. I feel truly happy about his recovery and new life in a new place with a wonderful partner who shares the same passion about nature.Reading this book made me want to go out to the countryside or woods to look up the sky and smell the spring air and listen to the birds (we just need good weather though!)


You've been in my thoughts so often this week, Julie, and I wish I were close enough to give you a real hug rather than this virtual one. I hope you're finding some comfort in your reading, as also of course in family and friends.


Despite my 'quibbles' with this book, I'd very much like to read more of RM's writing, and his plant books would be a good place to start.


I shan't hold it against you if you stop now, Chris!


Good point about the book's falling between two stools, DP.


"Heart-sink": very good way to put it!


Onwards and upwards!


Yes, that is indeed a poignant episode.


I've never known you take so long over such a (relatively) short book, but I do agree that there are moments worth waiting for.


I suppose in a way reading the book is like noticing signs of spring while yet in the grip of winter, but I'm glad you too found some rewarding parts to it, Michi.


I haven’t finished the book yet. I have about 100 pages to go. As some of the other commenters noted, the book is rambling hodgepodge of recovery, politics, history, ecology and conservationism. Bits and pieces of it are lovely, but as a whole…well, I haven’t read the whole book yet, but I don’t think getting to the end is going to improve my opinion. Like Michi, I googled East Anglia and the Chilterns to get an idea of the landscape.


Well I did finish the book and like the others I had struggled to decided what kind of book it was. I liked Dark Puss' description as it did fall between the stools.

I started it while 'the blizzard of the winter' was blowing around the house. Hopefully it was winter's last hurrah. The signs of spring here are a few weeks/months away so it was rather nice to read the nature parts of the book about East Anglia, particularly their signs of spring.

I thought it was brave of him to talk about his illness and it was nice to end the book on a high note, he was well and moving on with his life.


Another struggler here. I persevered till two thirds through but finally capitulated when I began reading Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. This was a work to supplement a Lenten Contemplation group. That experience clarified all that was wrong for me with Nature Cure, her writing so vivid and engaging, so spare and irresistible. There was no distracting authorial presence that was the magic, though I acknowledge that the two books are from distinct genres. The clarity of her description held me and transported me to the northern Hemisphere with an ease that sadly the other 's did not. Probably was a hard act to follow!!

I agree incidentally with the "too many birds" comment. I found some innate resistance developing to following their exploits Dillard did restore my faith in Nature writing.

Dark Puss

I can recommend Flora Brittanica and Beechcombings.


I was interested to learn that 'cuckoohood' is the Scottish name for cornflower - I'd never heard that before.


Don't feel you have to press on if it's a trial, Ruthiella.


Yes, I am glad he found a new relationship and a new home.


I haven't read Annie Dillard yet but I certainly want to do so.


I think that on balance I enjoyed this book however I also felt that it couldn't make it's mind up what it was. I did find some of the personal material rather jarring compared with the nature writing.


On occasion his material is very personal - a little too much information for me at times.

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