Sunday, 6 July 2014

The Snow Geese

The Snow Geese
William Fiennes
London, Picador, 2003, 243p

I don't get much time to read adult fiction, and I have even less time to read adult non-fiction. But I love travel writing, and at the moment I have a real desire to see the world. So whilst I am confined to my home with the flu, I took upon the opportunity to let my reading take me on holiday.

Following an illness that resulted in long term leave from university, a young William Fiennes finds himself interested in the birds that flock and migrate through his parent's garden. He reads his childhood favourite, The Snow Goose, and longs to track the birds as they migrate across North America.

Starting out in Texas, Fiennes travels up through South Dakota into Canada, and finally to Foxe Land on Baffin Island, where the nights are short and snow holds out well into spring. He meets fascinating individuals along the way, some bird watchers, some hunters, some who couldn't care less but are kind enough to offer shelter, company or guidance.

Like The Music Room, this novel flits between story-telling and providing factual information about it's subject matter. Fiennes offers his readers interesting facts about the migratory patterns of birds, including historical references to research. He also discusses the medical history of nostalgia and homesickness, which I had never really considered as a legitimate subject of medical study until I realised how much focus there has been upon this area in the past.

As Fiennes travels further north, you start to notice a change in his tone - more emphasis upon the medical understanding of nostalgia reflecting a longing to go back home and a mild dissatisfaction with his trip, suggesting it is not what he expected it to be. I almost wish he wrote a follow up, exploring his readjustment to reality, but The Snow Geese is perfect as it is.

I love Fiennes' writing, which I may not have come across if it hadn't been for my work with the creative writing charity, First Story. From the first line of The Snow Geese, you are gripped by curiosity, the vivid descriptions of female golfers coming to life on the page before you. I relish his prose, which draws you in and frees you from the everyday.

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