Turning The Boat for Home

REVIEWED BY JEFF TAYLOR


Richard Mabey (Chatto & Windus: 2019)


This year is the 50th anniversary of Food For Free, the first book published by nature writer Richard Mabey; in those 50 years the author has written well over 30 books. The latest is Turning The Boat For Home (Chatto & Windus: 2019) which collects just over 30 pieces of his occasional writing published mostly during the last two decades, commissioned by a variety of editors and publishers.


The title, Turning The Boat for Home, is taken from an essay first published in The New Statesman in which the author reflects on the experience of being on the Norfolk Broads on his boat just before it goes into dry dock for the winter. He contemplates ‘the experience of living in a world alongside other species…a sense of neighbourliness…based on sharing a place, on the common experience of home and habitat and season.’


In the prologue to this latest book, the author admits that he never felt he was up to writing a full-blown autobiography, ‘hopeless at recalling long-lost inner feelings’ and lacking ‘the novelist’s skill to make it all up.’ He was happy, however, to produce a collection of his ‘short-order work’ which ‘contain broadly autobiographical material.’ The book has four sections reflecting four distinct themes echoing his development as a writer. Briefly these are: early writing influences, writing about plants, politics especially that of woodlands and finally, ‘new nature writing.’


Suffolk appears in several pieces in the book including a celebratory piece on Ronald Blythe which was first published as a preface to Aftermath (Black Dog Books: 2010), a collection of Blythe’s writings over 50 years. There is also a tribute to Roger Deakin, The Commons Man, from BBC Wildlife. Of further interest is a review of Butterfly Isles (Granta Books: 2010) by Patrick Barkham, worth noting as Patrick will be in conversation with Richard Mabey at the University of Suffolk on Thursday 19th May. Tickets can be bought here: https://www.suffolkbookleague.org/events-1/richard-mabey-and-patrick-barkham



I’ve heard Richard Mabey speak several times over recent years, the first time was at Jarrolds in Norwich during the launch of his book Nature Cure (Chatto & Windus: 2005) and enthusiastically spent £15.99 on a signed hard copy! It was at this event that I was one of many mesmerised by his manner of speaking, those who have heard him will know what I mean. I had that voice in my head while reading Turning The Boat for Home, as if he was there by my side.