It is 1966 and a young boy is standing at an ice-cream van, to buy the cheapest lolly and show the ice-cream man his wildlife jars. “What do you say to a weird kid with dinosaurs in jam jars who never speaks, who only ever points, who buys your cheapest ice-lollies and seems to think that bartering with various bugs is a viable currency for exchange?” This is the very beginning of a book that I found completely absorbing and very difficult to put down.
“They rose twinkling in a cosmos of beautiful light, spinning and flickering, flashing their brown wings white, flaring brilliantly in a helix of spangling twists and loops and then fusing briefly before pulsing apart and rising again, livid and lucent, flaming furiously, spiralling above the tangle of briar and bracken. And then there were three, four, sparking in a gyre of soft and silent fury.” It doesn’t say what they are but as this ‘play’ continues to unfold the reader is left in no doubt that the young Chris is enraptured by the territorial battle of a group of Speckled Wood butterflies, left with a memory that would sparkle for a lifetime.
If the wildlife writing is at its best, the backstory of a young boy struggling to fit in, to make sense of the world, trying to work out who he is, is at once sublime, harrowing, fearful, raw and uncompromisingly honest.
‘I forgot about the enemy.’
She consciously waited and then without looking up asked, ‘Who is the enemy?’
‘I am.’ He replied quietly, ‘I’m the enemy, my enemy. And I’m chasing myself and when I finally catch me I’m going to kill me.’
He spoke as if this scenario was a simple, obvious, everyday matter of fact so she responded in a similar vein, ‘How do you stay ahead?’
‘By running, by never stopping, by constantly trying to make it better, do it better. By never giving up, by always believing that I can, I must, I will.’
‘Do what better?’
‘Everything.’ ‘Every single last thing. Every breath, every task, every job, everything.’”
Chris’s amazing communication skills are brought to the fore in this book. The mix of the most engaging wildlife writing, edgy backstory and open and honest approach makes this book a must read.I’ve only just finished this book and I want to read it again!