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Sightlines Paperback – 5 Apr 2012
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Praise for Findings:
'Kathleen Jamie writes with unparalleled beauty, sharpness of observation, wit, delicacy, strength of vision and rare exactness of language.'(Daily Telegraph)
It finds without disturbing the found. And this takes courage and delicacy (John Berger Guardian Books of the Year)
Her acheivement is to make us look again with completeluy fresh eyes at those creatures and places we had long presumed to know (Mark Cocker)
Five years after Findings broke the mould of nature writing, Sort of Books presents Sightlines - Now a Radio 4 Book of the Week, starting on 23rd AprilSee all Product description
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Even if the rest of the book were poor - which it most certainly is not - it would be worth reading Sightlines just for the observation about sheep in a winter landscape. Clearly, I'm not going to tell you what that line is - but it made me stop, put the book down and wonder just how acute your observations would have to be to come up with a line like it.
The rest of the book is excellent and just as in Findings, some of the best sections are based indoors rather than outside. Time spent in a pathology lab, and a museum (maybe mortuary?) for whales produced wonderful essays.
The prose in the book is neither flamboyant nor self-consciously clever, but it is wonderfully well constructed - there is barely a word out of place, and each one seems to add to the sense of place that this book is about.
I cannot recommend this book highly enough - and you may be pleased to know that the line about the sheep come early in the book!
These essays, or perhaps 'meditations' is a better term, range in length from two to about 30 pages, long, and each are beautifully illustrated by stylish b & w photos. Whether describing the synchronised,shining curves of a pod of orcas, the eyes of gannets, "round and fierce, with a rim of weird blue", or the irregular surface of a cancer tumour, named "for the crab, because a cancer tumour sends claws out into the surrounding tissue", her eye continues to offer unusual poetic or challenging perspectives, especially when she pictures parts of the human anatomy as a landscape of land and river margins, mud-flats et al.
Her eye extends to an archaelogical dig, "the bite on the point" of her trowel, and the discovery of the woman in the cist burial. Although her sharp eye also catches the "glowing marshmallow pink" of icebergs in the morning sun during an Arctic cruise, her ear also delights in the charm of the "di-diddle-ditted" of a petrel in its burrow on Rona, responding to the tape recording played at its burrow mouth. There's also the account of her determined attempts to overcome the ocean's might, to finally describe the isolation of St.Kilda at her third attempt, and an almost hypnotic encounter with the curving power of cetacean skeletons in the 'Whale Museum' in Bergen.
Overall, this is an insightful and largely inspiring set of writings, with the marvels of the natural world predominant. I confess to feeling that the piece on 'Pathologies' was not to my taste, and felt it sat rather uneasily amongst the other writing, though I can see the link with other pathologies, including the cist burial. Hats off to 'Sort Of' books for some lovely paperback production values: clear typesetting, gorgeous cover art, illustrations, and the book's 'feel' in your hand.
So, for example, one essay about gannets on a gannetry beyond the Shetlands, has her musing (this being a nursery after all) about her own children, and the different relationships between mother and child in other species.
Another, highly unusual 'natural world' examination, is under the lens of a microscope, looking at tumours in biopsies, and at Helicobacter. She equates this microscopic world to the known world of landscape, seeing inlets, sandbanks, gullies, and bacteria like 'musk oxen on tundra,seen from far above' Pastoral bacteria, feeding on the gorgeous turf of stomach lining. And, for me, that heart stopping sentence in this essay: "That's the deal: if we are to be alive and available for joy and discovery, then it's as an animal body, available for cancer and infection and pain"
Whether it is the delights of cleaning a long dead whale's ribs with a toothbrush (!) or going into the earth as if walking inside its body, to visit Paleolithic cave paintings, Jamie is thoughtful, and thought provoking
She embraces the obviously poetic and the mundane, and, like a true poet, sees the poetry in the mundane, using language which is the antithesis of the fey. This is nature writing which engages with the viscera and with sinew
I now have her earlier work, Findings, waiting to be read
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