Helen Macdonald: Books of the Year

Transported by Ali Smith and bowled over by ‘Cold Blood’

 

I was utterly transported by Ali Smith’s How to Be Both (Viking), a novel built from two stories that speak at – and through – each other across six centuries. Exquisitely drawn, poignant and deeply clever, it is a meditation on the material of art in all senses. I’m about to read it for the fourth time.

A very different book is Paul Kingsnorth’s crowd-funded The Wake (Unbound) a disturbing first-person account of guerilla warfare after the Norman invasion, written in an 11th-century “shadow tongue”. I was fascinated by its tragic, unlikeable narrator and its drunken, mythical, power.

Richard Kerridge’s Cold Blood (Jonathan Cape) is a triumph. This hugely generous and humane combination of memoir and nature writing is both a celebration of the oft-unloved reptiles and amphibians that have been Kerridge’s lifelong obsession, and a book about what it means to be human, on how to find yourself at home in the world.

Helen Macdonald’s H Is for Hawk (Jonathan Cape) won the 2014 Samuel Johnson Prize for nonfiction
 

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