Top critical review
4 people found this helpful
Difficult to see the wood for the trees
on 12 September 2016
If you're reading this review on a Saturday or Sunday, chances are that if you turn to the Guardian or Observer, you'll find an opinion piece about rewilding. Amongst the intelligentsia at the Guardian Media Group, it really is as zeitgeisty a subject as it's possible to get. This would, presumably, change if talk turned to loosing honey badgers in the delicatessens of Islington but, for now, the papers are promoting the concept for all they're worth and George Monbiot is their proponent-in-chief.
Feral is rather like one of his columns stretched to book length. Whether that sentence inspires excitement or dread will depend on what you think of his columns. I rather like them, but this book provoked a mixed response. When it comes to exploring an idea in 800 words, Monbiot is a master. He's never obvious and has a rare gift for eschewing the smugness and bombast which characterise the work of the broadsheet columnist. Sadly, when he's given a book to make his case, problems start to appear. Monbiot writes well, for sure; unfortunately, he over-writes better. There are passages of beautiful descriptive writing here, just rather too many of them, resulting in an intermittently florid whole. Sometimes, it's as though, rather than undergo the scrutiny of an editor, the manuscript experienced a rewilding process of its own. The descriptions of kayak fishing are wonderful but there are far to many instances in which the author encounters some supposedly fascinating creature, then discusses, at length, a variety of tangentially related topics before finally getting round, about four or five pages later, to telling us it was a field vole.
It's infuriating, because there's a compelling case for rewilding and Monbiot is undermining his argument through his efforts to play Thoreau. When he takes his foot off the gas and relaxes, he's an incredibly persuasive advocate for his ideas. By the time I'd read it, he certainly had me convinced that the Eurasian Lynx should be reintroduced to these isles and that hilltop afforestation is an essential part of flood prevention. Admittedly, he could have got there in half the time-or, indeed, in 800 words-but he had me sold.
Feral is a fascinating, if occasionally frustrating, book. It's at least fifty per cent too long, but it paints a highly seductive picture of a possible future. Rewilding has clearly become a thing and, in time, there will no doubt be less flawed books on the topic. For now, though, this is the best we have and, if you're prepared to put in the effort, you will be rewarded.