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4.6 out of 5 stars41
4.6 out of 5 stars
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on 30 November 2012
On the cover of Otter Country is a puff from Jim Perrin 'If a better nature book is written this year I would be very surprised.' As we approach December I think we can be safely say he was right. Otter Country is a delight; beautifully crafted, passionate and authentic, it chronicles Darlington's quest not just to observe but to understand the otter - and in so doing to discover more of herself. And it's this aspect - the willingness to place herself and her responses into the narrative - that I enjoyed so much. Too many supposed new-nature books use the landscape as a prop for the author's ego - reams of research material supported by a fleeting visit to the 'wild' (the much lauded Edgelands is a classic example). Otter Country is the real deal - Darlington's lifetime obsession is genuine, so too her initial naivety; her need for help, empathy and patience in understanding her subject - Otter Country is as much inner journey as outward quest. All this and exquisitely written too - I read it in a weekend, then again a month later - a rare event for me and further endorsement if it were needed.

Highly recommended.
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on 12 May 2013
It is hard to sum up all the qualities of this stunningly beautiful, well written, thoroughly researched and highly readable book, other than by saying it is simply one of the finest books I have read in a long time, and engrossed me from the start.
Miriam Darlington is an accomplished poet whose deft observations of animals and nature are always engaging, and in Otter Country, her first venture into the world of prose, she doesn't disappoint. Split roughly into regional sections, as the author visits various parts of the country in search of the elusive animal, the book provides a fascinating overview of natural Britain, from the "True North" of Scotland, to the "wide curve of sand and mountainous dunes" of Northumberland, with its "gnarled, windblown hawthorns," taking in the Lake District and the surprisingly wildlife-rich canals of east London, to the "glittering river Dart" and the idyllic sounding environs of the author's local area, England's south-west.
There is a lot of thoughtful, insightful poetry and nature writing emanating from this part of the country right now, with writers like David Caddy, Mandy Pannett and Alice Oswald bringing the ancient land-and-water-scapes to life, and Miriam Darlington's fluent style of writing, non-judgemental observations and obvious love of wild animals fits perfectly into this poetic melting pot. Her descriptions of seals "bobbing like vertical bottles" in the sea, her meditations on the Cheddar Gorge, whose limestone foundations are steeped in subterranean water "percolating, eroding ventricles and chambers inside the secret rhythm and drip of the earth," and of course her depictions of the otter, whom she imagines "enfolded in fur, dreaming of water; a tight sleep-knot, enjoying the deep sleep of one who exists totally in the moment," all proclaim to us clearly and admiringly "This writer is a true poet."
The book is not just a collection of sightings and descriptions. The author gives us a detailed history of the species, its relationships with other creatures and its evolution, its place and timeline in and around Britain, and the many threats it faces. She tells us movingly and interestingly about how her fascination with otters first began, describing her membership of charities and trusts devoted to its welfare, and entertains us with a rich array of characters who she meets along the way, from renowned experts to enthusiastic otter-spotting amateurs, assisting in her quest to observe otters in their wild habitats. Miriam Darlington also quotes extensively from scientific reports and statistics about otters, and from wildlife books throughout the ages. Expected names cropped up - Leopold, Maxwell, Williamson - but I was also thrilled to come across various authors I had never heard of, such as Annie Dillard, David Abram and Barry Lopez - the last being a discovery for which I am truly grateful, for indeed, it is entirely thanks to this wonderful book that I have embarked on exploring the whole of Lopez's back catalogue of nature writing.
Otter Country does not restrict its self to the titular animal. There are, among others, fascinating accounts of the lives and habits of different mustelids, beautiful descriptions of insects, haunting images of starlings and swallows. I read this book over a couple of days when mainly out nature-watching myself, finding it a fine companion for such purposes. Overall, Otter Country is a compelling and heartfelt book, the otter seems to swim out of its pages like a vivid dream, the writer's passion for her environment being eloquently and sharply expressed. I will not spoil the "plot" for future readers by detailing exactly how the author's quest to uncover the lives and mysteries of wild otters unfolds, only to say that for anyone who appreciates good, rich, confident writing, and has a love of the natural world, Otter Country is a must!
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on 10 December 2012
This is a jewel of a book by someone who is devoted to wildlife and knows how to get up close to it! I bought Otter Country because I have always loved otters and like many people have never seen one in the wild. The author not only shows you how to find otters but also her descriptions of witnessing this elusive animal are so well written that they are totally hypnotic. Darlington helps you to feel what it really feels like to encounter an otter, and as the sightings approach you tingle with excitement. All the hype about this book is true. The book is also packed full of beautiful descriptions of the British landscape and the chapters explore some wonderful parts of the country, even including some built up urban areas where you would never expect otters to be. It's a truly thrilling read and I couldn't put it down! The otter moments are awesome and after I finished reading I was gutted it was over and wanted to read it all again. It made me laugh out loud and it made me cry, and most of all it made me want to run to my nearest river and start looking for otters. Buy it for somebody for birthday or Christmas - it will make it magical.
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on 10 December 2012
There is much to love about this beautiful book: the way it shows the writer's personal quest, the quality of the research, the elegant writing, the sheer sense of engagement with these elusive animals that the reader is drawn into. I deeply appreciated the accounts of those rare encounters with the otters--peeping through the windows of a motor caravan, standing in waders in a bog, in freezing winter next to a lake in Wales. "Whenever we encounter extraordinary wild creatures, it takes a few moments to adjust. Our senses register a strangeness for a split second. The we might feel shock, as a prickle of recognition goes through our body." And even when the writer doesn't actually take us to meet otters face to face we grow familiar with their prints and their splaints and their habits. We are taken alongside the writer in her quest. As she tells us, "Whether I see it or not, holding it in my imagination requires something of me that is greater than all the weight of experience and scientific knowledge that I've been accumulating..." This book deserves all the praise it is receiving.
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on 7 September 2012
I bought this speculatively after reading the rave Guardian review that said the author had immediately catapulted herself into the company of the nature writing greats with this book - and they got it just about spot on! This is a great read - part journey across the country in search of the author's beloved otter and part excavation of this animal's literary past, this is really readable and rewarding stuff.
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on 5 December 2012
I am not someone who usually browses in the nature section of bookshops but I rate Miriam Darlington's writing and so was intrigued by 'Otter Country'. Just reading the first page I knew I was in for an absolute treat and I was never disappointed. I have even turned other non 'nature' readers into fans - there is something universal about Darlington's quest that makes this book compelling - that and her exquisite writing. Buy this for yourself and anyone who loves good writing. I am looking forward to the next one.
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on 6 August 2013
This book is a wonderful read. Well written in an easy style that brings the content of the book come to life. A book that all nature lovers should read.
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on 11 December 2012
I bought Otter Country: In Search of the Wild Otter as soon as it came out in September 2012 and was immediately taken by the brilliantly evocative writing combined with a clear contemporary analysis of the state of the otter in the UK. The author describes Scotland, Northumberland and the Lake District with a skilfully poetic air. The book also has a great narrative structure and is also a page-turner. A highly recommended read for all nature lovers- eco-criticism of the highest order.
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on 7 September 2012
I'm a big fan of nature writing (Macfarlane, Mabey, Jamie etc) and loved this. The moments when Darlington makes otter sightings are positively spine tingling and by the end of the book you feel you're seeing the world as perhaps an otter would. A wonderful journey into the world (both literary and literal) of one of our most fascinating mammals.
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on 10 September 2013
Darlington has a thing about otters, bordering on an obsession with them. In this book she shares that obsession. The otter was almost made extinct in this country, and were only made a protected species in 1978. Since then they have made an amazing recovery, assisted by the cleanup of the river systems across the UK, and there are signs of otters in a lot of rivers across the UK, provided you know where and how to look.

In this book she travels all around the country in search of the elusive otter, and meets with people who are possible more obsessed that her, including James Williams, author ofThe Otter Among Us. She goes to the Cardiff University to meet the people on their Otter Project, where they perform autopsies on otters that have been killed, mostly on roads, and collect DNA data from these unfortunate creatures.

There is not so many actual experiences of her encounters with otters, as she says they are elusive, and are often active at night, but this is as much about the experience of being close to the wildlife of the rivers and estuaries, and being immersed in the fantastic landscape of Western Scotland. But as she looks for evidence, she finds their trails and spraints in many places close to home and whilst on her travels. The few encounters that but she does document the few that she has.

This is also a book about the wider natural environment of the UK, whilst we do not have the same mega fauna of Africa, it is still a fascinating country that we live in, in terms of wildlife. I liked the writing style, it is very evocative and she gives you a wonderful sense of place.
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