I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

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Words The Wind Blew In

John Feehan
Landmarks, by Robert Macfarlane, Hamish Hamilton, 387 pp, £20, ISBN: 978-0241146538 Landmarks sets out to be an exploration into “the mutual relations of place, language and spirit”, and although it lacks something of the fluid lyricism and narrative flow of its masterly predecessor, The Old Ways, the language at its best dazzles and mesmerises, at times recapturing the limpidity of The Old Ways (for example, when Macfarlane describes a return visit to the Cairgorms ten years after he first read Nan Shepherd’s famous book on the area. Toponomy aside, each of the chapters is a tribute to a figure who has been a major influence on his writing: in Chapter 2 it is Finlay MacLeod and Lewis, Nan Shepherd and the Cairngorms in Chapter 3, Roger Deakin and his wetlands in Chapter 4. These accounts are often riveting, but more in the nature of personal memoir. Nan Shepherd in particular is a deep influence on him, and he quotes in extenso from her book on the Cairngorms (which he has read at least ten times), snatches of which often carry echoes of his own prose. Opponents of windfarm developments will doubtless enjoy the account of how the “re-enchantment” of the moorland landscape of Lewis saved it from the gargantuan windfarm development proposed in 2006. Chapter 5 is a memorable portrait of JA Baker, author of The Peregrine, providing an account of the difficult personal circumstances under which that masterpiece was written. But equally it is a meticulous analysis of Baker’s style, and this helps us to see the extent of its influence on Macfarlane’s work. He admits as much, telling us that the opening sentences of The Wild Places “knowingly invoke the opening sentences of The Peregrine; Baker is present through the whole work, his style stooped into its prose.” In Chapter 6 we meet Richard Skelton, “a musician, a glossarian, an archivist. Landscape, language and loss are the three great subjects of  his work.” There is a fascinating analysis of Skelton’s strange music which makes me want to hear it: “echoic, repetitive, faded and fading; a minimalist sound-palette; shades of Arvo Part or Brian Eno – emerged, itself ghosted by missing partner-pieces: all those compositions that had been played to no audience but air and the moor grass.” Skelton also wrote a book to accompany his recordings (Landings), and this too has influenced Macfarlane; “Both sound and text are devoted to a kind of echo-location used to measure the…

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