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4.6 out of 5 stars34
4.6 out of 5 stars
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on 21 November 2008
I remember reading this book when quite young - maybe 9 or so - and being extremely upset by the ending. I have since revisited it as an adult and was struck by what a beautiful book it really is. It is full of joy and wonder, as well as death, sadness and brutality - the latter made even worse by its almost casual nature. It's an exquisite portrait of a vanished time, seen from Tarka's viewpoint.
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on 13 September 2011
Been meaning to read this book for years. Finally got around to it after I saw a copy going cheap.

The novel tells the trials faced by an otter in the Devonshire countryside.

Taka is born 1 of 3 cubs, practically as soon as he is born he begins to recognise the dangers that will dictate and eventually end his life.

The book explores nature and the harshness encountered through both the wild and also mans interference. Nothing is left out or to the imagination. Often harrowing, the story details Tarka's constant battle with the otter hounds, and in particular their fearsome leader Deadlock.

In many ways Williamson's bleak writing of the English countryside reminded me of Cormac Macarthy, in particular the Orchard Keeper.

The only reason I gave this book 4 stars, not 5, is that the local dialect used for various landscape features got a bit tiresome and repetitive.

All in all, a very good read, but also a sad one which causes the reader to reflect on mans wrongful treatment of nature more than any other book I have read.
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on 16 February 2012
I remember reading this book when i was young about 7 - 8 years old and after my boss saying that she just recently read it, i decided to re-read it and it brought back so many memories. Its a beautiful book which your imagination can get lost in and you can picture how otters would be.
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on 5 January 2011
As a child, the film adaptation of the classic novel had a massive effect on me and ever since it has been an ambition of mine to read the source material. I certainly wasn't disappointed. The book is both stunningly beautiful and brutal, with Williamson not afraid to shy away from certain gory details that were part of life as an Otter living during the early 20th century.

Thankfully, Otters are no longer subjected to such regular persecution but Henry Williamson gives us a captivating historical insight into rural England. A must read.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 12 February 2012
From the very start it is clear that this is a book based on hours of observation, of close attention to detail and a keen eye.

The descriptions of the Otter's eye view of the Devon countryside rings very true; the plants, the birds and other animals occur exactly where they should be and the author clearly has a feel for water.

The otters in the book, especially Tarka, seem both real and fantastical at the same time - brave, cunning, highly intelligent and remarkably resolute. Whether this is a true reflection of the biological otter is a matter for debate, but the whole the book feels more believable than mythical.

The story is told in a simple and straight forward manner, and for all that the otters become somewhat humanised the story is far from romantic. The death of the otters at the hands of otter hunters in brutal, and their casual disregard for other living things is clearly shown.

This is a sympathetic portrait of otters and an honest, but not flattering, one of humans.

`Animal stories' of this type do feel rather old fashioned, but the detail of the observation lifts this book above the ordinary.

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on 4 February 2015
Beautifully written, and utterly bleak. The antithesis of Disney, here is nature in all its rawness. Beasts eat each other, and man kills indiscriminately. Our hero otter survives the trials of life, and goes out with a blaze of glory after an epic chase. Understood in the context of the First World War, the melancholic tone and realism of life and death is stark. Don't get attached to any animals you meet in the text, and some meet a truly heartbreaking end. This is such an amazingly real depiction of the English countryside, red in tooth and claw. Not one for sensitive children's bedtimes.
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Tarka is set back in the days when otter hunting was still permitted. While this sounds and was very cruel, we need to remember that at that time people had little or no entertainment and as otter hounds were followed on foot, the poorest in the village could participate. Mainly to them it was just a day out.
Tarka grows and lives in a clear, running river and eats fish, lives in a holt - a hole in the river bank - and plays and grooms himself incessantly. We also see the other creatures around him such as kingfishers and salmon, wildfowl and pike.
Williamson was a naturalist who got his details right and recreated the environment so that we can see how the various factors interact. He used the otter hounds to provide drama and suspense for the reader, and to show us the part the otter played - unwillingly - in the run of village life.
A similar book but easier for the younger reader, is Break for Freedom by Ewan Clarkson, about a mink called Syla who escapes captivity. He also wrote Halik The Grey Seal. Tarka is not for young children as the language is fairly advanced.
Williamson also wrote Salar The Salmon. He admitted himself that it was not easy to read, adding that it had been very difficult to write and chapters were finished at the last minute, not revised before sending to his editor. Salar is worth reading by more advanced readers interested in limnology - the study of rivers and lakes.

Gavin Maxwell wrote Ring of Bright Water about his otter Mijbil in Scotland. However this is not suitable for young readers as the first several long chapters are about Maxwell taking a cottage to clear his mind in order to write up his serious studies of the Marsh Arabs. I struggled through until finally Mij appeared and the book lightened up. But at that age I had very few books. Young readers are better to go for The Otter's Tale, which is the relevant chapters condensed, and later in life if they wish they can go back to the autobiographical version.
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on 14 February 2016
This is a hard book to star. I do find it pedestrian, a slog at times though it certainly has its moments. One of those is Tarka playing with the moon (p 19). But sentences like 'Bird, animal and fish made a chasing arrow-head whose tip was the glinting pollack; conger the flexible shaft, otter and shag the barbs.' (p 69) make very little sense to me.. Much finer is 'When the sun, like an immense dandelion, looked over the light-smitten height of
Cosdon Beacon,'... (p 98).
I do feel with Williamson who had to rewrite the book no less than 17 times and understandably after four years of rewriting was pretty tired of it! Strange is the fact that the writer who supposedly knew the area as the back of his hand, seems to have confused the headwaters of the Torridge with those of the Okement (a tributary). The latter certainly rises near the Taw, the Torridge miles away!
I do not feel much sympathy for otters though I find it highly unlikely that a bitch and her two cubs would slay twelve rabbits (p 48)! But down-right hatred I feel for so-called sportsmen (what a silly word!). Murderers would be more fitting.
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on 20 March 2013
Simply, one of the greatest books ever written, by one of the greatest writers in the English language.A masterpiece of observation! "He could see and he could write!"
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on 2 February 2007
Timeless and simply beautiful to read, you can not stop reading it but you can put it down and pick it up again. I don't usually read books twice but I will this one. Living in the west country you can identify with the places and loose yourself in them. This book should be one every country lovers book shelf.
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