Monday 2 May 2022

Guest review by Linda Sargent: 12 BIRDS TO SAVE YOUR LIFE - NATURE'S LESSONS IN HAPPINESS by Charlie Corbett

 


"Rediscovering his connection to the natural world through reacquainting himself with birds, their habitats and song."

Linda Sargent is a writer who works as a publisher’s reader (David Fickling Books since 2002). She has published short stories and articles and her first novel, Paper Wings, appeared in 2010; she is also the author of Words and Wings, a training guide to creative reminiscence work, available as a free download from her website. She is currently working, along with Joe Brady and Leo Marcell, on Tosh's Island, a middle grade graphic novel based on her childhood.

The line, “Grief finds its good way home” from Elizabeth Jennings' poem Into the Hour, is especially apt for this book, I think. The clich√© of coming to terms with loss has always felt inadequate and often inappropriate to me, but “finding its good way home”, yes, that’s more like it. And this diary/essay form account that Charlie Corbett uses to chart the ten years following the death of his mother does feel so much like this kind of journey and one that most people are likely to recognise. Charlie’s mother was in her mid sixties when she was diagnosed with a brain tumour, which the author says at first, although a shock to the family, they all imagined it would be dealt with, sorted out and their mother would continue to be their centre, as he describes, “the glue that held our family together”. That this would no longer be the case seemed unimaginable and when she died there was inevitable fracture and despair, one which sent the author into dark times and which he admits never fully disappear. For him this “way home” involved rediscovering his connection to the natural world through reacquainting himself with birds, their habitats and song.

Although he chooses twelve birds to focus on, during the chapters he also includes many others, presenting a full picture of his relationship with nature as a whole and a reminder of things that he knew were important to him, but that he’d forgotten or neglected to remember over time. As well as the perhaps more obvious candidates like the skylark, the robin and the wren, there are other less predictable birds such as the magpie and the seemingly ordinary house sparrow (sadly like so many not so ordinary and common these days). And although every chapter begins with one bird, it soon broadens out into reflection and reminiscence, as he recalls earlier associations and memories of family life and the way in which he, his father and his siblings have to begin to live with their new reality. At the end of every chapter he gives a brief and nicely personal factual guide to his chosen bird and finally he includes what he calls a Gazetteer – A year in the life of birds, detailing what to look and listen for where and when. It is, as he says, a very personal account and is not meant to instruct, but rather to invite the reader to join him on his journey and in doing so to maybe find it easier to approach loss and grief in their life and find solace in the natural world which is fundamental to us all.

12 Birds to Save your Life is published by Penguin.

More reviews by Linda Sargent:

The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin   

The Buried Giant  by Kazuo Ishiguro 


Linda wheeling away into Blenheim Park


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