In short: B: A year of plagues and pencils; The gardener; A curious boy – reviews | Books


Edouard Carey
Gallic books, £ 14.99, pp 400

Some people have warped knits to show it, others have a belly induced belly. For Edward Carey, author, among other novels, of the triumphantly idiosyncratic Small, the pandemic travel activity produced an archive of drawings that began with a doodle and quickly grew into a pledge to produce one per day, duly posted on social media. His sketches, all done with Tombow B pencils from Japan, depict poets and scientists, birds and beasts, heroes and monsters. Some subjects are hotly topical (George Floyd, Kamala Harris), others historical (Samuel Pepys, Ada Lovelace), while nature provides timeless consolation (as an Englishman in Texas he is particularly enamored of ‘a bird called the grackle). These character images are linked here with melancholy and modest words of hope.

Salley vickers
Viking, £ 16.99, page 304

Doomy nettles, arched brambles and ivy-engulfed trees rule the garden of Knight’s Fee, a sprawling Jacobean house that narrator Hassie Days, an illustrator, has just bought together with her financial sister, Margot. The house is in a village in the Welsh Marche and while Margot has moved to London it is up to Hassie to get her land back in shape. She is helped by an Albanian named Murat and as they work hard, the fog of sibling rivalry and a love affair she’d rather not remember dissipates, leaving her freshly receptive to the mysteries of her new home. . Imbued with the redemptive power of place, Salley Vickers’ 11th novel is a green-fingered hymn to regeneration, both rigorous and charming.

Richard fortey
HarperCollins, £ 9.99, pp352 (brooch)

What makes a scientist? This is a question that is particularly compelling in a world that insists on segregating practitioners of science, hooking them with notions of genius and eccentricity. Renowned naturalist Richard Fortey investigates by rethinking his own life, gradually crafting an exuberant memoir that celebrates a post-war British childhood spent brewing mythical stinks, hunting for fossils and searching for mushrooms. The answer? Curiosity for his beloved nature, yes, but also an omnivorous and persistent appetite for painting, poetry and esoteric choral music.

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