This is a wonderful book about place, and how it’s history can shape it, as well as us. Laing follows the history of the River Ouse as it meanders through the county of Sussex, and the people that witnessed it. We spend a lot of time with Virginia Woolf and how she was drawn to the river in life, and also, how she used it in her death. But the historical figures, and authors specifically, that Laing references are many, and I loved dipping into the aspects of their lives through the river. A beautifully lyrical ode to one of the natural features of the earth that we live our lives parallel too, and a reminder of how much they influence us.— Becky Doherty
A beautiful, lyrical book tells the tale of the river in which Virginia Woolf drowned, and heralds the arrival of a major new voice in nature writing
One midsummer week more than 60 years after Virginia Woolf drowned in the Ouse in 1941, Olivia Laing walked that same Sussex river from source to sea. The result is a passionate investigation into how history resides in a landscape--and how ghosts never quite leave the places they love. Along the way, Laing explores the roles rivers play in human lives, tracing their intricate flow through literature and mythology alike. She excavates all sorts of stories from the Ouse's marshy banks, from the brutal Barons' War of the 13th century to the "Dinosaur Hunters," the 19th-century amateur naturalists who first cracked the fossil code. Central among these ghosts is, of course, Virginia Woolf herself: her life, her writing, and her watery death. Woolf is the most constant companion on Laing's journey, and this book can be read in part as a biography of this extraordinary English writer, refracted back through the river she loved. But other writers float through these pages too--among them Iris Murdoch, Shakespeare, Homer, and Kenneth Grahame, author of the riverside classic The Wind in the Willows. The result is a wonderfully discursive read, interweaving biography, history, nature writing, and memoir, and driven by Laing's deep understanding of science and cultural history.