Review published on February 19, 2017.
Alys Fowler is well known as a gardener on TV programmes such as Gardeners World. She loves her garden and finds it very therapeutic to work in, although she hardly enters it for a year and while it returns to nature, she travels the canal system of Birmingham in a bright red blow-up raft.
In this book, Alys tells the tale of her life as it unravels over that year. She starts by noting the wildlife and plants on and near the canals as she learns to paddle by herself and, occasionally, with friends, trying to stick to the central canal system of Birmingham. She even traces her routes on an old map stuck to the wall outside her home office. Further on in the book, she tells of her realisation that she has fallen in love with a woman and that she really is gay. She has to tell her husband and they then work through the splitting up of their life together.
At first I enjoyed this book, since I thought it was just about Alys’s year on the canals and I liked her descriptions of the things she noticed as she paddled around and, being the plants person that she is, she included some great paragraphs about the plants and how they live in the ravaged margins of the industrial wasteland that makes up the canal sides. But, as she slowly realises her personal dilemma of falling in love with her long-time friend, the whole tone of the book changes and I admit that halfway through I was struggling and nearly gave up. I got fed up of all the crying as her life slowly disintegrated around her. It wasn’t until I read another review that I realised that this book is actually two stories in one, both concerning hidden nature. The first is about her canal journey, but the second is about that fact that she didn’t realise that she was gay until she was in her thirties, so that her own “nature” was “hidden” for so long.
Did I enjoy the whole book? Well, yes, but it was not the book I thought it was going to be and I would probably not have read it if I had known it was more a biography than the nature diary I was expecting.
Sue Dawson 3/3
Hidden Nature: A Voyage of Discovery by Alys Fowler
Hodder & Stoughton 9781473623002 hbk Apr 2017
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