Is it a bird?
The goshawk was the first raptor to become extinct in the British Isles but in the last few decades it has reappeared in very limited numbers. This book is Jameson’s tale of how he set out to discover if it had returned to his own area, somewhere around Bedfordshire, I think. I say ‘I think’ because Jameson has a very annoying habit of not revealing locations – he hints that this is to stop people being able to track and kill the goshawk, which would be both understandable and admirable if in fact he only did it in places where the goshawk has been found. At one point, he refuses to name a village in which he found a stuffed goshawk in the back of a shop – one can’t help but feel it is in very little danger of worse happening to it now…
As part of his search for the elusive ‘gos’, he visits various places where they are in residence – Germany, Scotland, the US – and speculates as to why the bird is successful in these places but still so rare in his area. He talks about why they became extinct and why they have reappeared and much of this is interesting. He also discusses habitat, breeding patterns, hunting methods, etc., but all in passing – there’s no clear structure or thrust to the book. He starts sentence after sentence with ‘I wonder…’ and then doesn’t go on to answer the question he has asked. Many times he sees a bird, fails to identify it and then ‘wonders’ if it might have been a goshawk. And then he casually disputes evidence without any alternative to put in its place. For instance, when seeing a gamekeeper’s records of the number of goshawks killed over a period of four years in the mid-1800s, he dismisses these with a casual disbelief that the figures could be so high, and says the gamekeeper must have mistaken other raptors for goshawks. Where’s the evidence for this? It’s certainly not in the book.
I may have been able to live with the lack of structure and evidence had the writing been good enough to lift the book. But no. Three-word sentences. Frequently. Without verbs. Why? “This is outdoors as room. Padded. Comfortable and comforting. Mild and wild. ‘Semi-natural.’ Sauvage, in a second-hand way.” It’s not all like that but it is written in an amateurish style that I assume is meant to make us feel that this is a friend chatting to us, rather than an expert informing us. So, to be fair, some of my irritation with the book may be down to personal preference. I like factual books to make an argument and back it up with evidence; and I like the conventions of grammar and writing style to get at least a nod. But perhaps this may appeal to people who like a more relaxed, informal and unstructured style.
NB This book was provided for review by the publisher.