Monday, 27 August 2012

Findings by Kathleen Jamie

There has been a lot of press about Kathleen Jamie's new book Sightlines which inspired me to try her, but I thought I should start with this book first.  Findings is a book of essays, some recounting journeys, some considering the natural world, others the details of the world we have made for ourselves.  Jamie's message could be summarised, simply, as pay attention: pay thoughtful and critical attention to the things you encounter, reflect on them, consider their meaning.  Jamie doesn't articulate this as a set of shoulds and oughts; she simply recounts, in beautiful and resonant language, her own thoughts and reflections on the things she has seen.

Sometimes this is exuberant - such as in the last chapter when, on a whale-watching boat, Jamie, the passengers and crew are treated to an astonishing encounter with a huge school of dolphins - and sometimes it is sombre.  The separate essays twist around, not necessarily going in the direction you might expect. Her themes can be exotic or strange, such as the preserved anatomical specimens in the Surgeon's Hall in Edinburgh, and utterly familiar.  Here is a typically lovely paragraph that considers the cobweb:

"The cobwebs make me think of ears, or those satellite dishes attuned to every different nuance of the distant universe.  One cobweb after another - a whole quarter of cobwebs, like an Eastern bazaar with all the cobblers, all the spice-sellers, all the drapers together in their own alleys.  The biggest web measured about a hand-span and a half, a pianist's hand-span.  I wondered if all the spiders were related, a family group."

Jamie is very good at making the familiar strange so that we can see and consider it from a new perspective, so that we too can wonder about the meaning of the everyday.  She also describes the Scottish landscape in a way that makes it both tempting and accessible, articulating the lure of islands and mountains, relating them to daily life, and then shifting perspective again so they acquire a renewed remoteness. Having finished this book, I found I had so thoroughly absorbed the message of mindfulness, the need to pay proper attention, that I immediately read it again - and, unsurprisingly, it yielded up new meanings that I had missed the first time.

1 comment:

  1. Such a good book. I don't normally worry to much about how something works as long as it's working, but this was one were I would dearly love to know how she does it.