MRS MOREAU’S WARBLER by Stephen Moss (Faber £9.99, 368 pp)
MRS MOREAU’S WARBLER
by Stephen Moss (Faber £9.99, 368 pp)
How did the cuckoo get its name? The answer is in the familiar call that heralds spring. But what of the sparrow, raven and wren, or the resoundingly named bird of the title, Mrs Moreau’s Warbler?
Stephen Moss’s delightful book explores the origins of bird names, ‘each of which has its own tale to tell about our language, history and culture’.
Some of our most familiar birds bear ancient folk names — the chiffchaff and woodpecker — while later names describe habitats, or commemorate people.
The story behind Mrs Moreau’s warbler is a romantic one. Reg Moreau met his wife, Winifred, on a fine spring day in Egypt, where both were working.
They fell in love, married and spent a lifetime studying African birds, including the endangered songbird which, in a touching act of devotion, Reg named after Winifred.
WHAT WE HAVE LOST by James Hamilton- Paterson (HoZ £9.99, 368 pp)
WHAT WE HAVE LOST
by James Hamilton- Paterson (HoZ £9.99, 368 pp)
‘The British Disease is an ailment not to be found in any medical lexicon,’ writes James Hamilton-Paterson. ‘Its symptoms…include strikes, stoppages, go-slows, exorbitant pay demands, equally absurd pay settle-ments, dysfunctional supply chains, loss of market share…’
These, along with a ‘smug, stubborn conservatism’ are, he argues, responsible for the decline over the past 70-odd years of the manufacturing industries that once made Britain a global industrial power.
Chapters on cars, ships and motorbikes tell a melancholy story, though Hamilton-Paterson, also a distinguished novelist, can’t resist glints of dark humour.
WASHINGTON BLACK by Esi Edugyan (Serpent’s Tail £8.99, 432 pp)
by Esi Edugyan (Serpent’s Tail £8.99, 432 pp)
Praised by Barack Obama, and shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, this novel comes garlanded with praise.
Named after its protagonist, it follows the remarkable life of Washington Black. Born a slave on a Barbadian plantation, when he was only five fellow slave Big Kit predicted that he would have a ‘life of many rivers’ — and so it proves.
‘Titch’ Wilde, the brother of the plantation’s cruel owner, takes on Washington as his assistant. Together they launch his invention: a hot air balloon.
He and Washington escape from Barbados, flying towards a world where — as Washington discovers in this rich and intricately plotted fiction — freedom means ‘one belongs nowhere, and to no one’.