An antidote

A review of ‘Summer’, edited by Melissa Harrison

Do you remember how in cartoons of old, a bottle of poison would always be helpfully labelled ‘poison’?  Just as helpfully, there would usually be a bottle somewhere nearby which was labelled ‘antidote’.  All that mattered was to find it. In the second of these season books from Elliott and Thompson, I might just have found it. This gorgeous book with its gold-flecked cover by Lynn Hatzius, is just begging to be opened.  Not only that, but Melissah Harrison whets the appetite from the very first page with her description of:

Those elysian summers, polished to dazzling brightness by the flow of the years

My ‘elysian summers’ got rather eclipsed by lawn-mowers, sneezing and the onward march of exam season after exam season, I think. This book can help to fix all that.

Open the pages, and you will see what I mean. You can lean over clergyman Gilbert White’s shoulder as he scratches meticulous notes in his 19th Century notebook.  You can sit with Janet Willoner on a clifftop, watching a raffish hunter at work as he daintily consumes his fish supper. With one writer you can watch a glow-worm dance, and with another you savour the taste of harvested corn and welcome ale. This is a summer collection to wake up a tired imagination, like sunshine warming a plant to coax it into opening.

Having already enjoyed Spring in this collection, there are two things I love especially about this second volume. The first is its ability to slide a different lens in front of my eyes. Most of us have admired a distant summer landscape – savouring the haze on the horizon. How many, though, have knelt down there and then to see what was flying or crawling amongst the grass at our feet? Melissa Harrison’s love for the nature which inspires her writing is obvious in the collection which she has edited.

The other thing I love is to do with the editing too. I love the fact that these pages not only introduce me to writers of years gone by – but writers from whom we shall be hearing for years to come. Where else, I wonder, would you find Charles Dickens and Gilbert White alongside a writer aged seventeen…or even twelve?

Last week I was interviewed for a story-writing blog all about writing and was asked about my favourite authors. Were it not for this collection, and its editor, I would never haver mentioned an ’emerging generation of young British nature writers’, but now I can.

Thank you, for this delicious antidote.


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