The Butterfly Isles, by Patrick Barkham
From the Publisher
Butterflies animate our summers but the fifty-nine species found in the British Isles can be surprisingly elusive. Some bask unseen at the top of trees in London parks; others lurk at the bottom of damp bogs in Scotland. A few survive for months while other ephemeral creatures only fly for three days. Several are virtually extinct. This bewitching book charts Patrick Barkham's quest to find each of them - from the Adonis Blue to the Dingy Skipper - in one unforgettable summer.
Barkham brings alive the extraordinary physical beauty and amusingly diverse character of our butterflies. He witnesses a swarming invasion of Painted Ladies, experiences the curse of the Purple Emperor, makes a euphoric sighting of an exceedingly rare migrant and, as summer draws to a close, suffers from butterfly burn-out. He meets some deeply knowledgeable and eccentric butterfly obsessives and reconnects with lovely, overlooked corners of our countryside. As he goes, he looks back at the butterfly collectors of the past and ahead to a future in which many of our butterflies will struggle to survive on an overcrowded and overheating island.
Wry, attentive, full of infectious delight and curiosity, written with a beautifully light touch, The Butterfly Isles will become a classic of British nature writing.
A Review by Peter Eeles - 17th October 2010
I've had a hard time characterising this book. I was expecting to read a straightforward diary of one man's obsession with seeing all of the British butterflies in a year. In hindsight, that would have made for a pretty dull read. Instead, we're treated to several storylines that are interwoven in a manner that Quentin Tarantino would be proud of and that certainly wants to make you turn the page. I guess that's the sign of a good storyteller at work. The emotional drama that unfolds in the author's quest to see all 59 species is paralleled with the emotional turmoil in his personal life; this isn't your average butterfly book!
As well as portraying the butterflies themselves in novel ways, the author also manages to express the passion felt by any obsessed lepidopterist, something that I've only previously encountered in any convincing way in Adrian Riley's "Arrivals and Rivals" that focuses on the birding community. No mean feat. The author also describes many of the "names" in the butterfly world, past and present, leaving you with the feeling that you know them personally.
But the piFce de rTsistance, in my humble opinion, is the material "around the edges" of the story being told. The anecdotes here and there, both from the author and those he met on his journey, really filled some gaps in my knowledge. I thought I knew everything there was to know about the well-documented story of the Large Blue, for example, having spoken with both Jeremy Thomas and David Simcox personally. How wrong I was. The sections on the Large Blue and RTal's Wood White were the highlights for me since they were truly enlightening, and I'm sure other readers will have their own favourites.
The main storyline (seeing all 59 species) seemed secondary as I read, although there's a nice twist at the end, providing the perfect ending.
All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book; it's the perfect way to pass the time while we wait for spring to relive the moments that this book captures so eloquently.
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