Book Reviews

The Heeding by Rob Cowen, Nick Hayes (Illustrator)

What Da Cover Says: From two bestselling and award-winning writers on landscape comes a luminously illustrated meditation on our relationship with the natural world and each other through four unprecedented seasons & a global pandemic.

Rob Cowen is an award-winning writer, hailed as one of the UK’s most original voices on nature and place. His book, Common Ground (2015) was shortlisted for the Portico, Richard Jefferies Society and Wainwright Prizes and voted one of the nation’s favourite nature books on BBC Winterwatch. His poems have featured on Caught By The River and in Letters to the Earth (Harper Collins). He lives in North Yorkshire.  

Nick Hayes is a writer, illustrator and print-maker. He is the author of the Sunday Times bestseller, The Book of Trespass (2020).  He has exhibited across the country, including at the Hayward Gallery. He lives on the Kennet and Avon canal.  Watch him creating imagery for The Heeding HERE.

What I Says: There is one thing I hadn’t fully grasped about living through this pandemic until I read this book, which is that everybody has shared the same experience….in years to come I can bore the grandkids with stories of “during the pandemic….” Cowen captures those moments of lockdown coming into force, the staring at the same four walls day in day out, home-schooling and nature stepping up and taking back the world for a bit.

Cowen and Hayes have created something special here, Cowen’s words share experiences with those that have managed to go unscathed during the pandemic and mixed with Hayes’ illustrations it is heart wrenching. When reading “Last Breaths” I had to put the book down and walk away for a bit, I was overwhelmed, too much to handle, my Grandad passed away during the lockdown and was only allowed one visitor (in full PPE) at the end, Last Breaths captures what he and many others went through in their last moments…it also highlights how much the NHS staff did for those people. That poem is a thing of devastating beauty.

It’s not all like that though, there are lighter moments, the joy of home-schooling ending 🙂 and seeing so much nature up close in the garden. Another one I really liked was the feeling you get when you see a hawk hunting alongside the motorway it doesn’t matter how old you are it will always amaze you. “The Problem With Us” covers fake news, internet lies about the dangers of vaccinations, Cowen has utter contempt for those who spread this nonsense without providing any evidence, I gave him a wee clap after reading this one for reading my mind…a side effect of the vaccine?

Hayes’ illustrations fit in perfectly with the poems, with a few of them you get caught up in the moment, turn the page and you are hit with an explosion of art, spread across both pages is nature in it’s full glory. There is some clever use of a hawk as a symbol of the virus, one of the first illustrations shows how deadly it is, taking it’s first victim and one of the last illustrations shows our defiance and escaping from it’s grasp. The last illustration in the book was my favourite, an angry little blue tit that would make a pretty awesome tattoo.

I wish I could include a few lines to tempt you into getting yourself a copy but you really need to get it yourself to experience this book, I would love to hear one day in the future that this book is being taught at school as it really is at that level. One of the hardest books I’ve ever read and one thought kept coming to me, “I wish events hadn’t happened to inspire this book”. This has to be one of the most brilliant books to come out during the chaos of the last couple of years, a record of the sacrifices people made that should not be forgotten, this truly is one of those rare books that I’ll be reading again and again. It left me feeling immensely happy, I was left with a real spring in my step ready to face anything the world cares to throw at me.

Thanks to Elliot & Thompson for the advanced copy of this book for me to review.

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