Top positive review
2 people found this helpful
on January 14, 2014
This is a memorable book. It proceeds at its own pace, drawing the reader in slowly but inexorably until it is only with the greatest reluctance that can one take a break in reading. The book is about walking, landscapes, and the mutual effects of landscapes on people and of people on landscapes. But that short summary does not do it justice, nor can I find one that does. The only way to find out is to read it and be patient, just let the author’s writing work its magic on you.
The paths that Macfarlane takes us on are varied, sharing only that they are old and traditional. Their precise location is not important, nor is their length. What we gain from this book is insight into the nature of the relationship between people and natural places, how places shape people just as people shape places
Several people, living and dead, accompany Macfarlane on his perambulations. We learn little about their personal lives, or about Macfarlane himself. This does not matter; even the living have dematerialized, become, like the dead, wraiths of the landscape. The one exception is Edward Thomas, a walker and writer whose life straddled the end of the Nineteenth Century, who recurs throughout the book. Macfarlane devotes the penultimate chapter to the story of Edward’s life and death. Thomas’s life turns out to be unexceptional: Except in his passion for the English landscape, his personal life was one of mundane selfishness. This chapter jarringly broke the spell with which the book had captured me: The final short chapter being insufficient to heal the wound. Notwithstanding this disappointing ending, the book is one of the best that I have ever read and will remain in my mind for a very long time.