Robert MacFarlane is among my top five favourite writers, fiction or non-fiction. The two pieces collected in Ghostways are very different: Ness, not-quite-a-play, not-quite-poetry, but to my mind meant to be read aloud, explores the depths and layers and secrets of Orford Ness, a shingle spit in Suffolk-a place I know as a birding site and nature reserve, but one that has another history. It is both haunting and disturbing, in the way T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets are. Its imagery will stay with me a long time.
Holloway, a prose exploration of a deep-worn, sometimes hidden path of Dorset is both a personal journey, a memoriam for fellow author Roger Deakin, and a wider discourse on landscape and meaning. ”Stretches of a path might carry memories of a person just as a person might of a path.” MacFarlane writes, and “paths run through people as surely as they run through places….” As a writer exploring the meaning of memory and place as filtered through grief in my current book, and as a person with a deep interest in how landscapes shape both individual and collective consciousness, MacFarlane (and his co-authors) as always, challenges and inspires me.