Mark McKerracher

Fantasy fiction

Review: The Soaring Life of the Lark

The Soaring Life of the Lark, by John Lewis-Stempel.

I’ve read a few of John Lewis-Stempel’s books, and always enjoyed the artful weaving together of nature lore, farming history, and literature. This is a short book (despite the price) and follows this trademark combo, with an exclusive focus on larks in Britain – especially skylarks, with a nod to other less common species. So we get lists of dialect names, some recipes, delightful historic monochrome pictures, lists of lark poems (and some entire poems reprinted), and an extended discussion about the skylark’s surprising and poignant persistence in no-man’s land during World War I (another of JLS’s historical specialisms). We also learn about the Victorians’ voracious appetite for skylark snacks, and the history of lark conservation right up to present-day lark-friendly farming. This was all new to me, and I loved reading it: a fascinating escape on grim rainy days. My only complaint is that some of the factual biological matter in the first chapter is a little too baldly presented. Given that JLS is capable of making that kind of information more readable, I can’t help wondering if he was bound to a tight word limit (or deadline) by the publisher.

So, a very pleasant and uplifting read, just a little bald in the first chapter: ****

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