Sara Maitland

The calls of the wild

This is a weird and wonderful book. Bernie Krause, who started out as a popular musician and then in the mid-Sixties began to experiment with synthesisers and electronic mixing, has spent the past 40 years recording natural noises — individual species, but more importantly, perhaps, whole habitats and therefore the relationship of the different sounds

Human smoke alarm

For five months of the year Philip Connors (once an editor at the Wall Street Journal) has a fascinating job: he is a firewatcher in the vast Gila National Forest in New Mexico, USA. He lives in a hut five miles off any road and, from a high tower, watches for tell-tale plumes of smoke

Infuriating brilliance

A.L. Kennedy is a very remarkable writer. And her new novel — the first since Day won the Costa prize in 2007 — is a remarkable book. What is really extraordinary about it is that at one level it is a pretty trite love story with dark secrets to be revealed and lots of reflection

All or nothing

A Book of Silence, by Sara Maitland The BBC sound archive has a range of different silences: ‘night silence in an urban street’; ‘morning silence, dawn, the South Downs’; ‘morning silence, winter moor’; ‘silence, sitting room’; ‘silence, garage’; ‘silence, cement bunker;’ ‘silence, beach’. You only have to read those phrases to know, viscerally, that their

Not much good clean fun

In the original Decameron by Boccaccio (mid-14th century) ten characters get together and tell stories within a narrative framework. It is an immensely attractive idea for a writer and has been used periodically ever since, notably by Chaucer. This is the basis for Fay Weldon’s latest novel. However, it has an odd and unattractive contemporary

Two halves don’t make a whole

What on earth is a ‘high concept novel’? For the expression to have any meaning you’d have to have a low concept novel, a medium concept novel and even a no concept novel. How high? Compared to? It doesn’t make sense. Nonetheless this is one. (In fairness to Fay Weldon she does not say so;