I have just had a new review posted on Amazon for The Beauty in the Beast – and I have never read anything quite so lovely … And as it is just on their site I thought I would massage my ego by spreading it far and wide … and possibly just tip one of you over the edge into buying the book for your friends and relatives for Christmas! So – here it goes (and I did no write this – but to whomever did, thank you!) ………………………….
This book is enthralling and heart-opening all at once. Each chapter meets a different British species and describes a particular enthusiast who has dedicated their life’s work to researching and protecting it. What makes ‘The Beauty in the Beast’ so unique and compelling is the charmingly playful humour of Hugh Warwick’s writing style. He sweeps you irresistibly along as he describes encountering each new species in closely observed and obsessive detail. It reads like a love letter that brims with delight and warmth, but I also found myself laughing out loud at some of the hilarious and skilfully understated narration: “There is a very small space between cute and ridiculous, and somehow this bat managed to occupy it with confidence.”
We learn that the gorgeous fur of long-eared bats, for example, is velvet to the touch, and that they purr when stroked. But this is no sentimental story, there is eye-opening information written between the lines and a campaigning undercurrent: we find that the insecticides that cattle are fed poison the beetles which feed on the cow pats, which in turn poison the bats which feed on the beetles… Gradually the interconnectedness of it all comes into focus, while Warwick’s description makes some of our seemingly ordinary creatures glitter with fascination.
I couldn’t put the book down. Warwick’s delightful curiosity, open-heartedness and sheer enthusiasm not only for the animal experts but also their beloved species is totally infectious. Even at dinner time, I couldn’t stop reading. There is a cheeky flirtatious quality to each chapter, with an underlying ‘mid-life crisis’ where Warwick claims he wants to be seduced by each expert he meets in order to convince him to fall in love with another creature, and have his hedgehog tattoo (see his last book, ‘A Prickly Affair’) accompanied by a new species.
Warwick puts himself into the story with a light, self-deprecating touch which is rare in such learned experts. For Warwick is a trained ecologist and campaigner but freely admits his love, which is at all times visible on his sleeve: “I suffer with a surfeit of empathy for both nature and humanity,” he admits towards the end of the book, but it is too late, for we too have already been infected by his thoughtful prose. “What I have learned…” Warwick concludes, “is that by applying ourselves to just one aspect of the beautiful and alarmingly fragile diversity of the natural world, we can learn to love not just a single species, but the entire web of life that sustains it and us.”
From the start Warwick set himself the task of finding a favourite from amongst his list of encounters. I won’t give away which species Warwick chooses for his new tattoo at the end, but when it finally comes it is a thrilling surprise.
But at the close of the book Warwick also has a warning: “Seeing more deeply and falling in love both come with risks. The pain we experience as a result can be as immense as the pleasure. ‘The stabbing pain of love’s awakening’ to quote Mahler’s ‘Song of the Earth’ , is joined with the fear of loss.”
Having read this book I wanted to shout with joy. It’s a rare thing; pure genius; a fun read which is in fact a treatise, a map showing us the way to come home to the things we love, and in this time of ecological crisis a clarion call to action. It’s true, we all need a species to love, be it ant, adder, beaver or bear. “Let us all take the risk of becoming attached to something out there,” Warwick ends: “See deeply, open up your senses, become aware of the interconnectedness of life, and risk falling in love.”