Sunday book review – Few and Far Between by Charlie Elder

9781472905185This book is about the author’s travels to see 25 of Britain’s ‘rarest’ and ‘most threatened’ animals; five birds, five mammals, five ‘herptiles’, five fish and five ‘everything elses’ in one year.

It’s a good read and we readers are taken to some interesting places, some which I would definitely like to go to in person, and the descriptions of nature are personal and engaging.  It’s well written.

The author made me smile often and laugh a few times too with his humour. I wanted him to see the species for which he was searching and to enjoy his times with them. And, clearly, he did.

I am probably one of relatively few people who, when they hear ‘Widewater Lagoon’, cannot but think in response ‘Ivell’s Sea Anemone’ but I did not know who Ivell is and I was pleased to discover the link to a member of staff at the Oxford Zoology Department in its story.  There is lots of good stuff in here and it is an enjoyable read.

And yet I can’t help but feel that it isn’t quite satisfying enough. The choice of the 25 species is pretty much random – yes they are all British rarities but that’s about it. So I did ask myself ‘why these, exactly?’ and I got no particular answer from the author. Clearly the selection was slanted towards the furry and feathery end of things and invertebrates get rather low billing, but I enjoyed their appearances immensely – especially the Wartbiter Cricket and Great Raft Spider.

Although this is, in a leisurely way, a ‘road trip’ it isn’t written in chronological order and nor does it have much sense of the author gradually working through his list of species to add to the ‘tension’ of the narrative. But then the book doesn’t have tension,  it is profoundly relaxing and a very pleasant reading experience.

If the setting off point,  why the 25 species and why exactly these 25 species, is all left a bit hazy then the ending is limp; the book just ends.  There is no conclusion, no bringing together of what it all should mean to the reader nor what it meant to the author. I feel this is a shame.  I felt a little let down at the end – ‘Oh, is that it?’.

But once you get past the slightly unconvincing start and until you get to the abrupt ending, then you will be carried along on a very pleasurable journey through some of the nicest places of Britain and meeting some of the species that you almost certainly have not yourself seen.  The author, a journalist, writes well and I kept turning pages. I learned things and was reminded of others.

Few and Far Between: in search of Britain’s rarest animals by Charlie Elder is published by Bloomsbury.

Inglorious: conflict in the uplands by Mark Avery will also be published by Bloomsbury at the end of July.




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