The Peregrine: The Hill of Summer & Diaries Hardcover – 29 Apr 2010
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‘…an inspiring example to future writers, and a gift to lovers of nature.’
The Times Literary Supplement
‘… a literary masterpiece, one of the 20th century’s outstanding examples of nature writing.’
‘The Peregrine should be known as one of the finest works on nature ever written'
‘… some of the most marvellous prose of the twentieth century.’
‘A tour de force … what can I do except praise writing which involves all the senses? This book goes altogether outside the bird-book into literature.’
The Sunday Times
‘A rapt and remarkable book … his phrases have a magnesium-flare intensity.’
‘… what is certain is that The Peregrine is the most precise and poetic account of a bird – possibly of any non-human creature – ever written in English prose.’
The Daily Telegraph
‘J. A. Baker's poetic prose has a hard intensity and an exquisite lyric grace that takes it far beyond the stereotypical stuff of larks ascending and questing voles. Cruelly beautiful and brutally exact, it sees the countryside anew to give us nature in the wild and in the raw.’
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I first heard about John Baker through the excerpts from "The Peregrine" in John Gray's book "The Silence of Animals" (in the chapter "Another Sunlight") and felt I had to buy it. John Gray notes that the book had been billed as a piece of nature writing, but that it is, in fact, more "radical": "'The Peregrine' is a tribute to the sense of freedom the bird evoked in Baker as he watched it in flight; but, more than that, the book is a record of the author's struggle to see the landscape in which he pursued the bird through the eyes of the bird itself".
With "The Peregrine" comes Baker's other masterpiece, "The Hill of Summer" - a more general description of nature divided up according to the summer months set in different locations. It is equally beautiful, with the author's sense of detachment from humanity being even more palpable.
I cannot recommend this book highly enough and it is a shame it is not better known.
'At midday I saw a fox, far out on the saltings, leaping and splashing through the incoming tide. On drier ground he walked; his fur was sleek and dark with wetness, his brush limp and dripping. He shook himself like a dog, sniffed the air, and trotted towards the sea-wall. Suddenly he stopped. Looking through binoculars, I saw the small pupils of his eyes contract and dilate in their white-flecked yellow irises. Eyes savagely alive, light smouldering within, yet glitteringly opaque as jewels. Their unchanging glare was fixed upon me as the fox walked slowly forward. When he stopped again, he was only ten yards away, and I lowered the binoculars. He stood there for more than a minute, trying to understand me with his nose and ears, watching me with his baffled, barbaric eyes. Then the breeze conveyed my fetid human smell, and the beautiful roan coloured savage became a hunted fox again, ducking and darting away, streaming over the sea-wall and across the long green fields beyond.'
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