Review – Women On Nature

Those with long memories will recall this blog is supposed to include my own creative writing, and reviews of the writing of others as well as birding write ups. Part of the reason for the paucity of book reviews is it has taken me a while to plough through nearly 500 pages of this weighty anthology edited by Katharine Norbury.

Given the increasing visibility of female nature writers I guess the starting point might be to ask why an anthology of this nature is required. In part it presumably goes back to Kathleen Jamie’s criticism of the ‘loan enraptured male’. In an essay for the London Review Of Books in 2008 the distinguished Scottish poet was critical of male nature writers like Robert Macfarlane whose works were littered with ‘I’ as they journeyed to headline landscapes rather than paying attention to nature all around them.

There are over 100 essays, poems or extracts in this anthology. The tone can be uneven because they are presented in author surname alphabetical order. Ironically the collection therefore finishes with one of the oldest works included, extracts from Dorothy Wordsworth’s journal in 1798. There are a limited number of illustrations which do their job, but are very black heavy and with the black cover the overall effect is a bit oppressive.

There is some great nature writing included, some of it from surprising sources. The late Deborah Orr’s account of exploring the natural habitat around her Motherwell home as a young child is a case in point. A short but acutely observed extract from Ali Smith’s novel Winter was a particular highlight for me. It was also good to see Karen Lloyd and Anita Sethi included, who I was privileged to learn from on the Litfest courses of the last couple of years.

A lot of the poems left me a bit cold, but that says more about my ability to access and appreciate poetry than any editorial choices to include them. The effectively random ordering means if something doesn’t resonate with you it isn’t long before something that does is drawing you in. Overall it’s recommended for anyone with an interest in nature writing, and as ever with books I have a hard copy of you are welcome to borrow mine.

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