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In brief: B: A Year in Plagues and Pencils; The Gardener; A Curious Boy – reviews

·2 min read
<span>Photograph: Antonio Olmos/The Observer</span>
Photograph: Antonio Olmos/The Observer

B: A Year in Plagues and Pencils

Edward Carey
Gallic Books, £14.99, pp400

Some folk have misshapen handknits to show for it, others a baking-induced paunch. For Edward Carey, author of, among other novels, the triumphantly idiosyncratic Little, pandemic displacement activity has yielded an archive of drawings that began with a doodle and soon became a pledge to produce one a day, duly posted on social media. His sketches, all done in Tombow B pencils from Japan, are of poets and scientists, birds and beasts, heroes and monsters. Some subjects are burningly topical (George Floyd, Kamala Harris), others historical (Samuel Pepys, Ada Lovelace), while nature provides timeless consolation (as an Englishman in Texas, he’s especially taken with a bird called the grackle). These characterful images are bound together here with words of wistfulness and modest hope.


The Gardener

Salley Vickers
Viking, £16.99, pp304

Baleful nettles, hunched brambles and ivy-engulfed trees govern the garden of Knight’s Fee, a sprawling Jacobean house that narrator Hassie Days, an illustrator, has just purchased jointly with her financier sister, Margot. The house is in a village on the Welsh Marches and while Margot is off in London, it’s left to Hassie to haul its grounds into shape. She’s helped by an Albanian named Murat and as they toil, the fog of sibling rivalry and a love affair she’d rather not recall clears, leaving her freshly receptive to the mysteries of her new home. Steeped in a sense of the redemptive power of place, Salley Vickers’s 11th novel is a paean to green-fingered regeneration that is both rigorous and charming.

A Curious Boy

Richard Fortey
HarperCollins, £9.99, pp352 (paperback)

What makes a scientist? It’s a question that’s especially compelling in a world that insists on segregating science practitioners, saddling them with notions of genius and eccentricity. Renowned naturalist Richard Fortey investigates by looking back over his own life, crafting as he goes an exuberant memoir that celebrates a postwar British childhood spent brewing up mythical stinks, fossil hunting and foraging for fungi. The answer? Curiosity about his beloved nature, yes, but also an omnivorous and enduring appetite for painting, poetry and esoteric choral music.

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