The Barley Bird

Author Richard Mabey, images by Derrick Greaves, Full Circle Editions, 2010, HB, ISBN 978-0-9561869-1-1


The subtitle of this handsome hardback volume, Notes On The Suffolk Nightingale, undersells it a little, because this very personal look at the Nightingale’s links with the Suffolk landscape is anything but notes.

Mabey takes in everything from Keats and John Clare to popular songs such as A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square to show just how ingrained in the popular imagination this sadly declining species is, very much in the same vein as his 1993 book Whistling In The Dark.

This time, his mixture of autobiographical sketches, cultural investigations and close observation is accompanied by vibrant images by Derrick Greaves.

As with the above-mentioned Clare, Mabey always allows enough of the living, breathing bird to come through – it’s never treated as merely a symbol or a cipher.

If Nightingales are your thing (and it’s hard to imagine any birdwatcher who has heard one who isn’t enraptured by them), then this is the book for you.

MATT MERRITT, APRIL 2010