Des Kennedy, An Ecology of Enchantment

Just the ticket, is what this book was for me a couple of weeks ago, when I needed some calming.

Des Kennedy is an author I've had a hard time getting into. His west coast novel, The Garden Club and the Kumquat Campaign, is about subjects that really should make it my cup of tea, but the title (along with the cover summary) put me off badly. The half-rhyme jokey reference to Clayoquot Sound had an unreasonably large effect on me, augmented by the advertised eccentricity of the book's Gulf Islands characters, and with more books in the world than time in my life, it never made it to my reading list (thought it has been sitting quietly on my shelves). To my ears, it sounded like the sort of thing likely to be thought funny by a boomer who's been on the Gulf Islands too long and is basically writing to/for his friends, one of whom happens to have an influence with a publishing house.

I enjoyed flipping through his gardening book Living Things We Love to Hate, though, so I became a little more kindly disposed toward Kennedy. When I saw the title of his newest book, though, I knew I had to give Kennedy a try. Now that I've read An Ecology of Enchantment: A Year in a Country Garden, I'm moving The Kumquat Campaign onto my reading list for summer.

In An Ecology of Enchantment, Kennedy manages to write from a position of knowledge without shutting out those of us without nearly so much knowledge. It's broken into 52 sections, one for each week of the gardening year, and the great majority of them are pensive and descriptive and genuinely evocative. There's a really nice attention to sensory detail - perhaps to sensuous detail, maybe even sensual - that's set off nicely by the regular hints at domestic discord between gardeners, or bits of self-deprecating humour at the state of a shed or the loss of a glove. Great sense of balance, though I would happily have read only the descriptive stuff.

It strikes me that there may have been an excellent editor at HarperCollins helping with this book: not that Des Kennedy's not capable of writing well, because clearly he is, but the writing has a very assured quality somehow, and the book is so much stronger than Living Things We Love to Hate (albeit for a different audience and a different purpose) that it feels to me that he worked with someone capable of drawing the very best out of him.

And if Kennedy can write better than this, well, I got me another writer for the personal pantheon.

The title, by the way, turns out not to be all that helpful. An Ecology of Enchantment sounds terrific, and I do see some possible connections to David Abram's similarly alliterative The Spell of the Sensuous, but it's a gardening book. For a book about ecology and enchantment, you'll have to go somewhere else, maybe to Matthew Dickerson (whose book Narnia and the Fields of Arbol: The Environmental Vision of CS Lewis I'm reading now, and whose book on Tolkien I've loaned to a student).


Nadine said…
I just picked up his book and I find that sections are like reading poetry. Absolutely beautiful in places and laugh out loud funny in others. Perhaps because I'm reading it in wintertime, this book makes me want to dig my hands into the soil. And it definitely makes me wish my 15x20 plot of earth was larger. Denman Island sized, in fact!

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