Friday 13 July 2012

Review: The Living Mountain

The Living Mountain by Nan Shepherd

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Living Mountain by Nan Shepherd is a powerful work of landscape writing which, I suspect, will require multiple readings to truly appreciate. 'Multi-layered' does not do justice to its richness and depth. It's perhaps the most complete book about the Cairngorms I have ever read: a work of true wisdom and a lifetime's experience.

The real gift of this book is an opening of the senses and expanding of the mind. No wanderer of the hills will ever see the landscape in the same way after reading this. Where most of us look, Shepherd really sees with all the senses: a complete awareness of the mountain, inside and out, with an astonishing degree of clarity. This book will make you see the world anew.

The language Shepherd uses is also very powerful. Her words have the ability to transport the reader directly to the mountain, eg. "In September dawns I hardly breathe--I am an image in a ball of glass." Or: "Sometimes I have floated up from sleep at dawn, and seen a roe, and sunk back into sleep again before my conscious mind had registered the thing."

The introduction is by Robert Macfarlane, a remarkable landscape writer in his own right (author of gems such as The Wild Places and Mountains of the Mind). However, insightful as Macfarlane's commentary is, I felt it took up too much of the book and waffled on a bit (it's a fairly substantial essay in its own right). I would have preferred a far shorter intro to prevent dilution of Shepherd's own writing. This cumbersome intro is the sole reason I haven't given the title five stars.

This book does not tell a story in the strictest sense or recount any history. I's simply focused with the process of being, and the rare art of true perception. A must-read for mountain lovers.

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