This reveals far more prejudice than I thought I possessed. My book has been published in the UK and the USA. It is the same apart from the cover and the title. In the UK it is ‘A Prickly Affair – my life with hedgehogs’, and in the USA it is, ‘The Hedgehog’s Dilemma – A Tale of Obsession, Nostalgia, and the World’s Most Charming Mammal’.
So what is in a title? I thought that reviewers would simply read and review the book.
Oh how naive!
In the UK, with our resident hedgehogs and culture of fondness, everyone has a hedgehog story – and some reviewers did not feel the need to read the book at all before writing, usually favourable, reviews. For instance the Times – an august journal of record – managed to publish a review that in the opening line proved the reviewer had not read the first paragraph of the first chapter. My opening paragraph puts the hedgehog in its place, taxonomically speaking – clearly stating that it is not a rodent. The Times review? “What is it with hedgehogs? They’re rodents.”
Other reviews have gone out of their way to conflate stories, creating a bit of a nonsense (though that may have more to do with the editors than the writers), mixing up two very different hedgehog events on different Scottish islands.
I can’t really complain, some of the reviews have been really wonderful – in fact it has given me a real buzz to read so many nice things about the book over which I slaved for quite some time. My favourite line is from a note up on Amazon “This is an utterly charming book, it is funny and gently serious…” I like that – gently serious – I had not thought the phrase, but it perfectly describes what I was aiming for.
So, here is my prejudice laid bare – I thought that if my book was reviewed in the US, it would be reviewed superficially – that the lunacy of hedgehog-love would be the focus and that it would hardly register. But how wrong I was. The first inkling was when Publishers Weekly wrote:
“Warwick provides wonderful insight into what the philosopher Schopenhauer called the Hedgehog’s Dilemma—how can two of the spiky animals be close to each other without causing pain? Warwick describes how they overcome obvious obstacles to reproduction and skillfully extends the idea to explore the current state of human-animal interaction: The dilemma we face is trying to get close enough to the wild without corrupting it out of existence. Warwick shows how the hedgehog offers a unique insight into how humans can protect nature, since it is the first and probably only wild animal that we urbanites and suburbanites have a chance of getting close to.”
And then the LA Times said:
“Warwick is delightfully nerdy: “Love did not blossom immediately,” he writes of his fascination. “I suppose in the beginning we had more of a friendship and a working relationship. But I want to jump forward to the juicy bits.”
These involve, as you can imagine, an unusual definition of the term “juicy bits,””
There’s more than a whiff of the legendary naturalist Gerald Durrell here — his humor, his affection and his never-ending curiosity. “We are most willing to change ourselves in the grip of true love,” Warwick writes. “True love, not the sort that tends to infect our appreciation of the natural world. . . . Sentimental love is superficial; it does not offer much.”
“Hedgehogs in love, Warwick simplifies to make a point, can’t get close to each other without hurting each other, so they back away. In a similar fashion, we humans can’t get close to the natural world without harming it: “The dilemma we face is in trying to get close enough to the wild without corrupting it out of existence.””
And I have developed a massive respect for the US reviewers – for nothing more than taking the trouble to read the book carefully, and to see beyond the whimsy and fun – right through to the heart of the matter – which is the hedgehog’s dilemma of the title … something that reviewers of A Prickly Affair have failed to even notice …
Let’s hope for more reviews to challenge this analysis.