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Lyrical in parts but dull in others
on 20 June 2012
This book was left behind by a summer house-guest who could not be bothered to finish it and did not rate it enough to give it luggage room. Given this inauspicious introduction, I started reading it out of curiosity.
The author of this autobiographical account is recovering from a debilitating illness which derailed his young adulthood and left him physically weak and emotionally vulnerable. In this precarious mental state, he conceives the idea of celebrating his recovery with a solo journey inspired by Paul Gallico's book "The Snow Goose" which had a profound impact on his young mind. So Fiennes sets off to follow the migration of snow geese from their winter quarters in Southern Texas all the way to their summer breeding grounds near the Hudson Bay in Canada. The resulting book is part travelogue, part scientific treatise on the migratory habits of birds and of this particular species of snow goose, and also a personal insight into the wider question of "homesickness" in humans.
I am rather on the fence about it. I enjoyed parts of it immensely but found other parts overblown. There is no question in my mind that Fiennes can write beautifully; some of his turns of phrase are refreshingly novel and he is able to describe passing characters in delightful and insightful detail with just a few words. His descriptions of locations and of the snow geese en masse can be lyrically poetic and his spiritual journey has a certain pathos. I felt he dealt with what must have been a pretty fundamental psychological crisis with both restraint and a diffident common touch. However, I think that Fiennes is less than successful in weaving all those themes together into a cohesive narrative and got rather lost into some lengthy scientific dissertations which are interesting to a point but often leave you wondering what this is all leading up to. Also from a self-confessed animal lover's viewpoint, his observation of the geese is curiously detached and the frequent changes in narrative tone left me perplexed. The end seemed rather sudden and, although I got pleasantly lost in some of the travelogue aspects, it is not a book I would wish to read again very soon.