As many regular readers of my blog may have noticed, I don’t read as much non-fiction as I often feel I should. I tend therefore to be a little picky about what non-fiction books I do read. Having seen several reviews of Kathleen Jamie’s volumes of essays this has been on the horizon of books I must read for a little while. Finding myself in the mood for something a little different I downloaded it to my kindle just the other day deciding to read it straight away. Now that is the wonderful thing about e-readers isn’t it? Instant gratification.
Scottish poet Kathleen Jamie’s stunning collection of essays, focus on the natural world. With lyrical prose and acute but sensitive observations – Jamie beautifully evokes all aspects of the Scottish landscape. There is a wonderful calmness to Kathleen Jamie’s writing which I instantly connected with, her imagery is beguiling and strangely memorable, as if one really has seen it oneself.
In the essay which opens this collection, it is mid-winter, and amid the preparations for Christmas, Kathleen Jamie ruminates on the symbolism of lightness and darkness.
“We couldn’t see the real dark for the metaphorical dark. Because of the metaphorical dark, the death-dark, we were constantly concerned to banish the natural dark.”
From her kitchen window Jamie watches a peregrine, listening to it call to its mate, conspiring with a local garage mechanic to watch the peregrines through his hidden telescope. In ‘The Braan Salmon’, Jamie presents us with the haunting image of an awe inspiring Salmon run, where the Salmon are deliberately prevented from following their instinctive route back to where they were born. There are many such images, images that will stay with me for some time, a dead minke whale on the beach, a boat surrounded by dolphin, the view of the Edinburgh skyline from Calton Hill. For me however the most enduring image is that of the corncrake. The corncrake is a small rare Scottish bird, that I am now firmly in love with. Crex-Crex (the call of the corncrake) my favourite of the essays and one I can see myself returning to. It starts with a description of that well known painting; the Haywain by Constable.
“The point is, when Constable packed up his easel at the end of that summer’s day, what he would have heard as he walked home through the fields – indeed, what we could hear if we could step into his painting – would be the call of the corncrake. A corncrake is a brown bird, a kind of rail, not ten inches tall, which prefers to remain unseen in tall damp grass. Its call – you’d hardly call it a song – is two joined notes, like a rasping telephone. Crex-crex is the bird’s Latin name, a perfect piece of onomatopoeia. Crex-crex it goes, crex-crex”
Kathleen Jamie emerges from these essays as someone I liked enormously, she and her family are very much a part of the book, but it is the natural world itself which is the real star. This book has brought my April reading to a very satisfactory close, and has certainly left me wanting to read Kathleen Jamie’s second volume of essays Sightlines. I will hold of buying that one just for the moment – but I am certainly now looking forward to it.