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Customer reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
47
4.6 out of 5 stars
Otter Country: In Search of the Wild Otter
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on 25 August 2016
I guess I had not quite expected such a lovely read. Becoming fascinated by otters I bought the book on a whim, thinking this could be slight over kill as how much could one really write about Otters! It's just lovely and everything I wanted from a book factual, natural, poetic and so readable.
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on 14 August 2017
Brilliant book! anyone interested in otters should read.
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on 27 April 2017
Very well written - fascinating.
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on 8 October 2014
I wanted to like this book but it falls awkwardly between the line of an informative, resource book and a personal tale about the authors relation with otters and her attempts to spot them. This style can often work well, providing informative background, whilst still giving its own compelling narrative, but this book, for me fell a little short. In the back it has an index, bibliography and list of useful sources - what you would expect of a resource book - but it is not in the stye or layout that you would use it in the study of a subject. Equally, as an interesting read, which was my aim, there is no clear story being told, just the author wandering around looking at new otter-based information. If I wanted to study otters, there are better resources to be found, and if I want to read an intriguing otter story, there are better stories to be found. For combining the two it is ok, but its an awkward line to tread.
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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 9 November 2015
Perhaps it was a mistake to read this so soon after Bill Bryson, and whilst I have quite a passion for wildlife and wild places, I'm afraid I just found this book rather dull and uninteresting, with little to engage me and draw me in - let alone be the kind of thing I'd want to read again and again.

Furthermore, and although in many ways this book is well written, I very much felt that it demonstrated the kind of overwritten, overly-poetic prose which, for some reason, appears to be almost ubiquitous in nature writing, and which I find more than a little irritating - not to mention somewhat self-indulgent, even pretentious. For me, the skill of a good writer is to avoid the twin pitfalls of prose which, on the one hand, is underdeveloped and therefore too matter-of-fact, and, on the other, that which makes it look as if the author is simply trying too hard - with this book very much falling into the latter category. The author (or maybe the editor) also seemed to have something of a fixation with semicolons, to the extent that, after a while, and already anticipating the next round of cringeworthy prose, my mind was almost drifting into a game of 'spot the semicolon'.

On the whole, I also found this book to be quite tedious. Sometimes, and without wishing to be unkind, it almost felt as if the author was intent on offering a deeply poetic meditation on, or carefully crafted observation of, pretty much everything she encountered (even the Severn Bridge!), while also feeling the need to talk us through every twist and turn of even the more mundane aspects of her various trips, travels and activities - not that anything much really seems to happen anyway. I also felt that the author was overly reliant upon reference to other literary works, which merely added to the feeling that, perhaps unsurprisingly, the book was striving for something decidedly 'highbrow'.

All of this is quite a shame, as the author comes across as a likeable person who not only has an admirable passion for otters, but who cares about them deeply, and whose various trips and outings in search of these slippery characters (pun intended) could have made for quite a tale.

In summary, this book will undoubtedly appeal to some more than others, but I'm afraid it just left me bored and unimpressed.
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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 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 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 4 April 2017
Absolutely beautiful and evocative book. It follows a passion and drive for knowledge of a charming creature and embeds it in truly wonderful and poetic prose.
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