My rating: 2 of 5 stars
I’ve liked many of Thomas’s poems (when forced to learn “Adlestrope” when I was fourteen, I took against him, but learned the error of my ways later in life), and have often wondered what his famous nature writing was like. So, I dipped my toe in the luxuriant waters with this short collection of essays published by Penguin in their English Journeys series.
Now, I found in this book what I feared most. I’ve always been wary of nature writing, and the recent increasing interest in it has brought to my attention snippets in magazines and papers, writing that I’ve tended to find a little over-wrought, a tad repetitive, and just a touch rich. And it was the same with the essays in this book. I think I like my writing… with slightly less cream and sugar, let us say, a little less piping across the marzipan.
I can’t count the number of times a moorhen appeared, or a pond. Whether it was the same pond or the same moorhen, I’m not completely sure, but there was often a pond, and often a moorhen. I also began to lose my way in lists of flowers, and trees and routes, colours, sounds, leaves everywhere, the textures of bricks and stones and tiles, and it was definitely too much; it all tumbled down in a cascade of adjectives and nouns.
For me, the best essay was “The Village” — I think because it had the feel of a narrative, that there was a little life writing, some biography in it. Of course, there were passages of loveliness in many of the essays, but, as I say, after a while it all became a bit too much. Still, many people greatly admire Thomas’ essays, and find the richness a pleasure. But I think I’ve learned that I prefer the spare fictions of a Maugham, Greene or Rendell. And one idea returned to me again and again as I read through the essays: that I preferred the compression and discipline of the poems; that, for me, Thomas had said everything he needed to say about his love of nature and his connection to the countryside in Tall Nettles.