ELEGY FOR A RIVER
By Tom Moorhouse
One-word reviews seem to be all the rage now. Pick up a book from your shelf, and I’d bet money that it’s got a one-word review on its cover. They’re usually something like ‘brilliant’, ‘dazzling’, or ‘important’, with no other context whatsoever.
If I had to choose a one-word review for Elegy for a River, it would be ‘refreshing’. Or perhaps ‘hilarious’. Not usually words associated with natural history non-fiction.
In this book, Tom Moorhouse talks about his time in the field studying water voles (and American mink) and white clawed crayfish (and American signal crayfish). The two former species are threatened native species whose populations are being ransacked by the latter invasive species.
Reading Moorhouse’s story is like being down the pub with a research ecologist: finally, you’re able to ask all the questions nobody ever asks (or answers), to get the inside scoop on what working in the environmental sector, and in the field, is really like.
The author’s writing style really does feel like you’re chatting over a pint – laugh-out-loud funny in many places, and occasionally detouring for a mini-rant or entertaining tangent about something only mildly related to the topic at hand (often through footnotes).
In amongst the good-natured complaining about the frustrations of fieldwork – low pay, insect bites, existential crises about whether you’re doing any good, and the like – are constant facts about the natural history and conservation stories of the species that Moorhouse studied. It’s an easy, enjoyable way to consume the information and is the perfect introduction to water voles and signal crayfish.
Of course, there’s a reason why Moorhouse persevered amid those frustrations for over a decade, and his love for the rivers and the natural world shines through in an endearing and approachable way.
There’s a message (deliberate or otherwise) that it’s okay to not love every aspect of a career in the environmental sector, and it’s okay to feel hopeless, and to make mistakes.
Moorhouse is funny, articulate, and engaging. I read this book in two days, and I recommend that you do the same; you won’t regret it.
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