Sunday book review – The Consolation of Nature by Michael McCarthy, Jeremy Mynott and Peter Marren

It was the best of times (the most glorious spring ever), it was the worst of times (a tiny virus had cut us off from normal life) but these tales of three naturalists capture the contradiction that many of us experienced. Were we allowed to enjoy ourselves when hundreds were dying? Was it OK to listen to bird song while NHS staff were sweating in PPE to keep our fellow citizens alive?

Confined to their own localities in Suffolk, Berkshire and south west London these three senior naturalists kept diaries of their encounters with nature and their thoughts about wildlife in the time of coronavirus. They all write superbly and their styles and perspectives are sufficiently different to add variety to the passage through less than three months but not so different that any grates with the others.

All observe closely and describe everyday, or every spring, events so well. One feels that their sense of observation was heightened by the times and the external events. They experienced the things that many of us heard or saw too, the Brimstones on the wing, the Primroses in the hedgerows and woods and the songs of resident and migrant birds filling spring dawns.

If you weren’t making notes of what you were seeing as the days passed then this book will provide you with a vicarious diary and jog your memory, and give you some things that you wish you had experienced.

This has to go into many Book of the Year lists as it is most certainly a book, and it is definitively of this year – and it is so beautifully written. I’m not so enamoured by the cover illustration though.

I remember saying at the time that I was glad that lockdown happened in spring since at least that is a time of hope, and of rebirth and reemergence. And what a spring it was! It would be a challenge to write a book about the three coming months of autumn and remain quite so upbeat as leaves fall, days shorten and the weather gets ever mankier. But there’s a challenge for you.

The Consolation of Nature: spring in the time of coronavirus by Michael McCarthy, Jeremy Mynott and Peter Marren is published by Hodder Studio on 15 October (quite a feat for a book which describes events up until the end of May).