Context: Read this each night as I lay down to sleep under our mosquito net in the village.
What a beautiful book to have read in a place so far removed from the setting of Tarka the Otter. The village of Male on the Rai Coast of Papua New Guinea has no rivers like that of Devon. No autumn leaves stain them brown. Nor do the rivers here freeze in winter. There are no moors, and the coast does not echo to the cry of gulls.
This book was therefore a perfect read for my time in Male because, by reading it, I could escape the constant heat and humidity, attempt to ignore the raucous sounds of village life and, let’s be honest, try to forget I was living in a house with no furniture, no electricity and no running water. In fact, I was back as close to Henry Williamson’s living context when he wrote this as I could have been.
The tale has a Hardyesque nature about it with its beautiful descriptions of English countryside. But instead of an exploration of the depths of the human soul, we are portrayed as very shallow in this attempt to depict the nobility of the nature we live in.
The scenes of otter hunting are quite traumatic. However, there’s enough in the book to help me understand that man shares with the otter the desire to kill for sport alone. I honestly didn’t think I’d enjoy this but I found it captivating from beginning to end.
Walden isn’t a patch on this. Ruskin would be proud.