Book Review: Hidden Nature by Alys Fowler

Friday, May 26, 2017

Title: Hidden Nature: A Voyage of Discovery
Author: Alys Fowler
Publication Date: April 11th 2017

Synopsis: "'The best maps are not published, are not accurate or even sensible, but are the maps we make ourselves about our cities, our kith and kin. These maps are made up of private details that allow us to navigate our past as much as our current terrain.'

Award winning Guardian columnist and gardening writer Alys Fowler set out in an inflatable kayak to explore one hundred miles of Birmingham's crumbling canal network. This book is about noticing the wild everywhere and what it means to see beauty where you least expect it. Above all Hidden Nature is about losing and finding, exploring familiar places and discovering unknown horizons."

My thoughts: This book caught me by surprise. I was not too sure what I was reading, going in, but I was interested. Nature writing has appealed to me for quite a few years - when I first discovered it, I was overjoyed that something like this existed, a wonderful blend of exploring nature and observations by an author usually gifted with the ability to turn a phrase and make you feel like you were really there. Nature writing, even when aligned with memoir writing that could be intense and sad to read, was relaxing in the extreme for me.

So, too, for Hidden Nature. Fowler's sudden interest and passion for the canals and kayaking around them hits you almost as soon as you open the book, and you are drawn in. She is descriptive about the things she sees, from birds to animals, and particularly plants (being a gardener herself). She also talks about people's reactions to her little inflatable kayak, and expeditions gone slightly wrong. When she gets down into the canals, she takes you very much with her.

The entire book is written mostly surrounding a huge realisation and change during Fowler's life, and the kayaking becomes an escape for her as she tries to make sense of her life. Whilst quite a short book, she packs a lot in, and she doesn't shy away from putting down her true thoughts during the course of her change. Sometimes she feels truly lost, and you feel that alongside her.

This book is calming and wonderful to read, and I really enjoyed it. The only reason I didn't give it a higher mark is because I, personally, am not that interested in most canals (I'm more of a tree-person) and I occasionally found the writing a little sharp and startling. Otherwise, I highly recommend it.

{I received an unsolicited copy of this book from Hachette in exchange for an honest review. Thank you!!!}

A favourite line from the book: 'I garden because I am. I belong to the garden rather than the other way around. I pour myself, sometimes quite physically, into nature because it is how I make sense of myself and my place in this world. The gardener in me observes, the scientist orders those observations into patterns, then the writer makes notes. The scientist shakes her head at these and cries, 'Dreamer,' while the gardener gets on with the weeding. Once again, throwing myself into the detail of the world around me seemed to make the most sense.'

You would like this book if: You enjoy nature writing with a side of memoir; you love descriptions of geese, canal-side plants, and the history of canals.

Tea to drink while reading this book: Thistle tea, I think.

Rating:  8/10

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