Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Review of Landmarks by Robert MacFarlane (2015, Hamish Hamilton)

We have a varied vocabulary for naming and describing landscapes. Words abound for particular natural features and phenomenon, varying between localities. Robert MacFarlane is a nature writer with a passion for collecting such words and for the prose of other books that focus on our relationship with landscape and nature. His thesis is that as we become more urban and distant from the land our vocabulary about place is shrinking with words and phrases dying out. As a result, we are losing touch with the places that have long sustained us. In Landmarks he provides a series of essays about the particular aspects of the British landscape (mountains, woods, coast, etc.), hooking the discussion around the work of another naturalist and the authors own journeys and experiences, and providing a glossary of words related to that landscape.  

It’s clear from MacFarlane’s own expressive prose that he is in love with words, landscape and nature, and he finds pleasure in exploring all three and their relationship with each other. Moreover, he is fascinated by other peoples’ attempts to make sense of our connection with places and is passionate about the writings of others. The essays that make up the book are nicely expressed and constructed, telling a set of interesting meditations on words, landscapes and lives. The initial essays are longer and more well developed, with some of the latter chapters being quite short and less substantial. The glossaries provide a set of interesting words, some recognizable, most local vernacular, unfamiliar to those not from the area. Combined these alternating essays and glossaries provide a joyous celebration of place and nature. And it’s all but impossible to read without noting down several other books that MacFarlane praises for future reading.

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