Common Ground by Rob Cowen – Wainwright longlist 2016

Review published on April 21, 2016.

Life has a habit of throwing curve balls at you. Cowen has relocated to Yorkshire, has just been made redundant and is confined by the weather to home. Longing for fresh air, sky and space, but not sure of the lie of the land, he ventures out to find somewhere.

And on the fringe of a housing estate, he finds it. It is a forgotten area, frequented only by dog walkers and people who hurry through; a piece of land that isn’t wilderness, but feels wild and untamed, unloved and uncared for. Pylons pierce the sky, surrounding this edgeland, reminding you that precious little of the land in the UK is untouched by human hands.

And it is in this place that he begins to feel free and to breathe again. Visiting frequently, almost obsessively, he begins to peel back the layers that form this place. With an almost forensic level of detail he observes: from tracking a fox, the brevity of the mayfly life, the hunt from the perspective of the quarry and the silent, lethal owl.

Intertwined through the book, too, is an honest account of his anxieties and thoughts on the modern world. He learns as well that he is to become a father, and the process of creating a new life is deftly woven into the narrative as his partner grows with his child.

‘I am dreaming of the edge-land again’

This is nature writing of the highest quality, on a par with some of the finest out there. It is imaginative, immersive, detailed and at certain points haunting. Cowen’s attention to detail is astonishing too, not just seeing, but making deep observations of all he sees captivating to read. The inclusion of his personal life, gives further depth to the book, but the more novel creations, portraying a hare as someone in a coffee shop for example, really didn’t do anything for me, and jarred with the rest. But other than that, this was excellent.

Paul Cheney
Personal 4
Group 3

Common Ground by Rob Cowen
Windmill Books 009195455X pbk Mar 2016

Previous:

Boundless: Tracing Land and Dream in a New Northwest Passage by Kathleen Winter

Next:

Moranifesto by Caitlin Moran

You may also like