Book Review: Vesper Flights by Helen Macdonald – “hugely readable, yet endlessly thought-provoking”

 

Reading Helen Macdonald’s 2014 book H is for Hawk was highly memorable for me. As I wrote in my review, “this is a book which makes one look afresh at man’s links with nature. In a time when we are rightly focused on global, big-picture problems, it nevertheless reminds us of the values we derive from being individually and inextricably bound to our own heritage and community”.

Macdonald’s latest work, Vesper Flights continues on the same theme, this time expanding on the glory and importance of our differences in a collection of vivid and powerful essays:

“I hope that this book works a little like a ‘Wunderkammer’ [a cabinet of curiosities]. It is full of strange things and it is concerned with the quality of wonder…..Most of all I hope my work is about a thing that seems to me of the deepest possible importance in our present-day historical moment: finding ways to recognise and love difference. The attempt to see through eyes that are not your own. To understand that your way of looking at the world is not the only one. To think what it might mean to love those that are not like you. To rejoice in the complexity of things.”

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Book Review: Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell

Maggie O’Farrell is one of my favourite authors – someone whose latest book I would always actively seek out.  I was delighted, therefore, to be granted access to a review copy of her new book, Hamnet, on NetGalley.  What a wonderful read this is.

From the blurb:

Hamnet is a novel inspired by the son of a famous playwright. It is a story of the bond between twins, and of a marriage pushed to the brink by grief. It is also the story of a kestrel and its mistress; a flea that boards a ship in Alexandria; and a glovemaker’s son who flouts convention in pursuit of the woman he loves. Above all, it is a tender and unforgettable reimagining of a boy whose life has been all but forgotten, but whose name was given to one of the most celebrated plays ever written.

I always enjoy books which explore the lives of famous people or well-known events from an unexpected perspective.  The genius of O’Farrell’s text is that it makes a virtue of ‘the elephant in the room’.  William Shakespeare is not named once in the book – in fact we experience his character as almost incidental to the main story, which focuses principally on his wife Agnes, how her life is affected by her marriage into the Shakespeare family, and how she is affected by the fate of her children, most particularly her son Hamnet. Continue reading