My rating: 5 of 5 stars
If you are one of my regular readers who, for some reason, continue to like reading my book reviews, then you will know that within my eclectic range of literary interests there is a subsection of going over books from my younger years which I haven’t read in decades and ‘reassessing’ their value.
Some books fall far short of the ideal. I recall with horror, when my kids were little, picking up a collection of Enid Blyton short stories and reading one to them, hoping to relive my childhood memories. I was aghast at the moral messages from that author. How the hell had we ever thought that was acceptable? The book was put back on the shelf, never to be touched again.
I’ve put off reading Richard Adam’s ‘Watership Down’ for a long while as a result of this. I loved the movie as a child, Art Garfunkel’s haunting voice singing Mike Batt’s beautiful ‘Bright Eyes’ still brings tears to my eyes. I read the book somewhere around the age of ten – probably way too young though somehow I understood every word even if I hadn’t a clue what the classic references starting every chapter were all about. I loved it and, indeed I still have the book – sans front cover lost in the midst of time. It is this copy I read for this review.
I’m pleased to say that Mr Adams came up to scratch. ‘Watership Down’ is still an exquisitely beautiful story and the writing remains impeccable.
The book, frankly, shouldn’t exist. It’s a story about bunnies which puts it firmly in the ‘for children’ category, and yet the writing is unmistakably for adults. I may have managed it (I was a precocious boy who devoured books far too old for him) but I didn’t get all the nuances. Plus, in the end, the storyline is rather horrific in many ways. Fiver the rabbit has premonitions that death is coming to the warren, which leads to his brother, Hazel, leading a small group of them out of their home and into the danger of the wild. Of course, Fiver is right – but they have not at all escaped death themselves. This is no bedtime tales for small children.
Blended into all this are tales of Frith, who created the world, and El-ahrairah, the first rabbit; and let’s not forget the Black Rabbit too. I can’t begin to see how children might respond to it all but adults seemingly love it. These strange, yet delightful stories give us a fascinating insight into…rabbits? No, of course not (though the author clearly knows the life and habit of these creatures), but our own way of thinking, for sure. You can decide on how far you want to go down this, as it were, rabbit hole. The book is wonderful just as a tale of rabbits searching for a mythical place of peace and security, or you can see it as an anthropomorphical tour-de-force of philosophy questioning our own understanding of God.
Either way, this is just such a lovely book. Richard Adams somehow manages to inject into the pages the smells, sounds and feel of the English countryside. Reading the story makes you feel like you are actually outside on a glorious English summer day. Episodes which should be silly in the cold light of day (they’re just bunnies for heaven’s sake!) leave you, at the very least, teary-eyed. And God help me if I start to hear ‘Bright eyes, burning like fire…’ in my head. I’m not crying, you’re crying.
I don’t often re-read books. Partly because there’s too many out there I haven’t read, and not enough time. Partly because, as it turns out, I have a pretty good memory for each and every one I’e ever read and don’t feel the need to return usually. But there’s a great sadness for me that maybe I won’t ever read ‘Watership Down’ again. Certainly, if it is another few decades before I want to try, I may well not be here to do so. I think, before I pass on with my own Black Rabbit of Inle, I might like to indulge in this tale once more. But you never know when he will come to you, do you? For sure, my torn and tattered copy will go back on my shelf along with other highly-prized possessions and it will at least give me the hope that I will once again join Hazel, Fiver, Bigwig and their friends on that epic adventure. Frith willing.
Social Entrepreneur, educationalist, bestselling author and journalist, D K Powell is the author of the bestselling collection of literary short stories “The Old Man on the Beach“. His first book, ‘Sonali’ is a photo-memoir journal of life in Bangladesh and has been highly praised by the Bangladeshi diaspora worldwide. Students learning the Bengali language have also valued the English/Bengali translations on every page. Listen to his life story in interview with the BBC here.
D K Powell is available to speak at events (see his TEDx talk here) and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Alternatively, he is available for one-to-one mentoring and runs a course on the psychology of writing.
Ken writes for a number of publications around the world. Past reviewer for Paste magazine, The Doughnut, E2D and United Airways, and currently reviews for Lancashire Life magazine and Northern Arts Review.