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Ness Reviews

Ness by Robert Macfarlane, Stanley Donwood


Robert Macfarlane, Stanley Donwood

3.33 out of 5

4 reviews

Category: Fiction, Fantasy
Imprint: Hamish Hamilton Ltd
Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
Publication date: 7 Nov 2019
ISBN: 9780241396568

Eerie, unsettling and hauntingly beautiful - a new collaboration from the bestselling creators of Holloway 'Ness goes beyond what we expect books to do.

  • The GuardianBook of the Day
4 stars out of 5
Andrew Motion
14 Dec 2019

"the conclusion of the book is, in its bleak way, impressive"

The book’s closing vision is of a world in which ruination of various kinds, including that caused by climate crisis, is interpreted as being potentially appalling, but also a possible means of salvation, because it restores the stewardship of the planet to Earth’s own non-human agency. There are places in the preceding pages where the structure of Ness creaks a little as it submits the wild forces it values to a firm (albeit fanciful) narrative pattern, and there are times when the governing idea of the Armourer et al and the “poetic” prose can seem somewhat twee. But the conclusion of the book is, in its bleak way, impressive, and constitutes another reason to be grateful that we have someone as inventive as well as erudite as Macfarlane continuing to address the most important subject of our time.


3 stars out of 5
15 Nov 2019

"Artist Stanley Donwood joins nature writer Robert Macfarlane to evoke a haunting coastline"

In Ness, Macfarlane’s words are a peculiar blend of past and future, inflected with the language of technology and warfare as well as the epic quality of Old English. Donwood’s images, meanwhile, are very much rooted in the damp, blank present of Orford Ness today. The result is atmospheric and thought-provoking — if slightly discordant.

3 stars out of 5
Stuart Kelly
7 Nov 2019

"what was most surprising about this is how surprising it was"

Well, what is it? Prose poem? Artwork (it is beautifully illustrated by Stanley Donwood)? Multi-media meditation? Having read all of his work, what was most surprising about this is how surprising it was. It bears little relationship to Mountains Of The Mind, The Wild Places,The Old Ways or Underland, although it does have a connection with Untrue Island, his musical collaboration with double-bassist Arnie Somogyi, which is also about the setting of this work: Orford Ness. Orford Ness is a genuine paradox. On one hand it is now a Site of Special Scientific Interest and on the other it contains the ruins of the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment. But in Macfarlane’s book it becomes something else as well. It is the Green Chapel, which carries associations with the poem Gawain And The Green Knight.

3 stars out of 5
Bryan Appleyard
27 Oct 2019

"Macfarlane is part of a generation of writers who invoke English landscape and folklore in thick, incantatory prose"

Like Max Porter and Jon McGregor, Macfarlane is part of a generation of writers who invoke English landscape and folklore in thick, incantatory prose... Ness is a book to read aloud to appreciate its fine phrases... Macfarlane skirts a fine line between awestruck and overawed by nature; and his hypersensitivity to language can feel precious... The main problem with Ness is how sketchy and incomplete it feels, like one of those well-meaning collaborative commissions by the Arts Council. Perhaps a third incarnation awaits, with a suitably crashing score. I was intrigued by the second, but never swept up.