the snow geese [book review]

Just as for the previous book, I found this travel book in a nice bookstore, Rue Mouffetard, after my talk at Agro, and bought it [in a French translation] in prevision for my incoming trip to Spain. And indeed read it while in Spain, finishing it a few minutes before touching ground in Paris.

“The hunters wolfed down chicken fried steaks or wolfed down cuds of Red Man, Beech-Nut, Levi Garrett, or Jackson’s Apple Jack”

The Snow Geese was written in 2002 by William Fiennes, a young Englishman recovering from a serious disease and embarking on a wild quest to overcome post-sickness depression. While the idea behind the trip is rather alluring, namely to follow Arctic geese from their wintering grounds in Texas to their summer nesting place on Baffin Island, the book itself is sort of a disaster. As the prose of the author is very heavy, or even very very heavy, with an accumulation of descriptions that do not contribute to the story and a highly bizarre habit to mention brands by groups of three. And of using heavy duty analogies, as in “we were travelling across the middle of a page, with whiteness and black markings all around us, and geese lifting off the snow like letters becoming unstuck”. The reflections about the recovery of the author from a bout of depression and the rise of homesickness and nostalgia are not in the least deep or challenging, while the trip of the geese does not get beyond the descriptive. Worse, the geese remain a mystery, a blur, and a collective, rather than bringing the reader closer to them. If anything is worth mentioning there, it is instead the encounters of the author with rather unique characters, at every step of his road- and plane-trips. To the point of sounding too unique to be true…  His hunting trip with a couple of Inuit hunters north of Iqualit on Baffin Island is both a high and a down of the book in that sharing a few days with them in the wild is exciting in a primeval sense, while witnessing them shoot down the very geese the author followed for 5000 kilometres sort of negates the entire purpose of the trip. It then makes perfect sense to close the story with a feeling of urgency, for there is nothing worth adding.

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