Every minute was magical, every single thing it did was fascinating and everything it didn't do was equally wondrous, and to be sat there with a kestrel, a real live kestrel, my own real live kestrel on my wrist! I felt like I'd climbed through a hole in heaven's fence.
An introverted, unusual young boy, isolated by his obsessions and a loner at school, Chris Packham was only at home in the fields and woods around his suburban home. But when he stole a young kestrel from its nest, he was about to embark on a friendship that would teach him what it meant to love - and that would change him forever.
In his rich, lyrical and emotionally exposing memoir, Chris brings to life his childhood in the '70s, from his bedroom bursting with fox skulls, birds' eggs and sweaty jam jars to his feral adventures. But pervading his story is the search for freedom, meaning and acceptance in a world that didn't understand him. Beautifully wrought, this coming-of-age memoir will be unlike any you've ever heard.
©2016 Chris Packham (P)2016 Random House Audiobooks
Loved it. The highs and lows of Chris Packham's animal - entwined adventures throughout his youth is a compelling read.
Read beautifully by the author.
Writer and audiobook reviewer.
This is wildlife presenter Chris Packham's story of his childhood and adolescence. With his all-consuming passions for wildlife and his obsessional behaviour, the boy Chris knew that he was different, that he wasn't programmed to empathise with others - he just couldn't be like other people, least of all the other pupils at school (he was diagnosed in his 30s as having Asperger's syndrome). The anguish that this caused him - being the victim of brutal, heart-breaking bullying; knowing that he either talked too little or too much; the cringe-making attempts to connect with girls; the attachment to Anna in the pornographic magazine he found in a hedge - are detailed in acute, self-aware detail. Later on he details his feelings when he was suicidal on two different heart-rending occasions, and these offer insights which give positive understanding into into the mind-sets of those in such a dark place.
The flip side of the tortured anguish is Chris's passionate love of wildlife of every kind and, when younger, of dinosaurs about which he knew every fact there was to know. His fascination leads him to eat toad larvae to see if their molecules would sharpen his vision; to cycle off on night wildlife adventures; and become obsessed with otters. His greatest love was his rescued kestrel which was, as Chris writes so beautifully, 'something shiney I had caught with my heart' and which he tended and trained with meticulous care and devotion.
The 1970s background with all its minutiae of period detail - the Z Cars, Angel Delight, electric fires, Punk Rock - make the whole vibrantly real. The content is superb but I do have reservations about the writing, which is why it gets a 4 rather than 5. I can see that Packham intends the passages about the wildlife to convey his own young self's ecstasy which he experienced when with creatures, but he overdoes the prose. I found it overblown - far too many adjectives, metaphors (sometimes strained beyond meaning) , similes, adverbs, nouns made into verbs... just far too dense. Fewer would have been more effective. Sometimes his words are brilliant inventions - such as when he says at school when everyone else starts going to drunken parties at the weekends, he does his best to 'de-exist'. Also I'm not sure that Packham, makes the best narrator. He tends to put too much excitement into the wildlife passages to convey that same ecstasy, but for me it detracted.
But don't let that reservation put you off - this is a very special story and the incident where Chris tries to save a fox caught in the water with a snare around its neck is tremendously powerful and left me literally gasping. You won't hear a story like this anywhere else.
Brutally & beautifully honest. An ultimately uplifting story of isolation, love & loss across the human & non-human spheres. Chris reveals a complex passion for the natural world - there's nothing simple or reductive here. Connectivity, autism, anxiety, grief & redemption - all thread through the journey. A tricksy mind is opened for us - like the specimen drawers finally explored by Chris' sister. We share its immense capacity for love & struggle for balance & survival.
Written with the eye of both an artist & a scientist, we learn about the human & the natural world & their complex interactions. He brings the 1970s to life with a few careful brushstrokes. But this is far more than a celebrity bio - rather, it uses that celebrity status to give an outsider hope - to promise that it is possible to transcend being different. Chris writes with humility & dignity &, in the language of the story, sparkle. A book to change lives.
Simply wonderful. Brutally honest, and wonderfully inspiring memoir for all who spent their childhoods enchanted by all the wild creatures in their neighbourhood. Thanks for sharing your often painful memories, Chris. I do hope you will write many more books.
Thanks Chris Packham for this amazing book. Funny, sad, informative, never slow or boring, sumptuous prose and a brilliant explanation of the Chris we only slightly glimpse and infer when we see him on TV. Thank goodness there were only 39!
I know Chris Packham as the tv presenter and local naturalist (I live on the edge of the New Forest). I now have renewed respect for him as a writer. This book was engaging, fascinating, disturbing and painful, but written with immense honesty and insight. I couldn't stop listening until I got to the end. I was left with many questions...what happened when Chris discovered the damaged kestrel's egg? I don't usually write reviews but this book is very different. And highly recommended.
I've never been one for autobiographies but this one is well with the read/listen. It is clever, witty, raunchy, honest and heart warming. It is well up there with my favourites.
Amazing read. Such a mixture of sincere heartache and heartwarming humour. Lively writing that transports you right into the centre of this magnificent young boy. A wonderful story. Well done Chris!
Read superbly by the author, this is a real treat. Obviously Packham fans will enjoy, but anyone who loves nature, or did as a kid, anyone with imperfect parents, anyone who grew up in the 70s, anyone who was bullied, anyone who experiences mental health struggles, dog lovers ... yes everyone will find something to enjoy here. Not all sunshine and birdsong though - a warning to the squeamish.
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