On the Marsh by Simon Barnes

4 out of 5 stars

Unsure whether to buy a home in Norfolk, what swung it for him was the song from a Cetti’s Warbler that he heard as he stood outside the front door. Outside the back door was a patch of marshland that they wanted to make a conservation area and his wife’s careful negotiations meant that they had a home and patch of land that would not be lost to development.

They had an opportunity to buy the land from their next-door neighbour, Barry and worked with the Norfolk Wildlife Trust to ensure that it became appealing to all manner of species. He isn’t really rewilding it, just letting it get on with life and death in all its rich forms and taking time to enjoy it. For their youngest son Eddie who has Down’s syndrome, it became a place of calm, a place where he could ask any question about what he saw around him when they walked out to their bench.

Set loosely over a year, this is a book that acknowledges time passing, and yet the writing makes it feel timeless. There are moments of sheer delight, when he looks out of the window and sees a marsh harrier passing over or the hare that makes the place his home. There are times he gets furious too, not at what he has but at the way we are discarding parts of the natural world without a care for out interdependent futures. There were some great moments too, like when he opens the moth trap, a birthday gift from his wife, both him and Eddie are hooked

What you see is great, but the greater thing is being out there. Not what you look at but what you’re part of. And that is the greatest gift the marsh brings to us. We’re not the audience, we’re participants.

I thought this was really good. I liked that whilst there was participation from his family in the book, they did not overpower the narrative, the marsh and all the life that inhabits it or passes over is the focus. The other participant in the book is his son Eddie and the way that he reacts to the natural world. If you are looking for personal angst in amongst nature, then this is not the book to find it in, rather this is a more mediative book, celebrating the tiny things that happen each and every day as he looks out the window, or sits on the bench with Eddie, drinking apple juice and beer enjoying the evening sun. It is a book to savour and enjoy.

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2 Comments

  1. Liz Dexter

    I’m so glad you enjoyed this! I loved it and in my review note that I was worried there’d be too much personal stuff but found it to be just right! https://librofulltime.wordpress.com/2020/12/03/book-review-simon-barnes-on-the-marsh-nonficnov/

    • Paul

      He is a good writer. I did an interview with him once, but I am not sure it is online anymore

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