Environmentalist and historical novelist Kingsnorth (Confessions of a Recovering Environmentalist and Other Essays, 2017, etc.) chronicles his efforts to get back to the land.
A few years back, the author “had a plan”: to get out of urbanized England, cross a just-big-enough sea to Ireland, and return to nature, schooling the kids at home, growing food, drawing water from a well—the whole rural ideal as celebrated by Yeats and company. The house he found, not far from the River Shannon, wasn’t quite the stuff of romantic idyll, more a concrete bunker—concrete being the dream of Irish folk “escaping just as soon as they could from the tiny, picturesque, damp, cramped, whitewash-and-thatch cottages” of the postcards. There was no end to the work, but the work was worth it if it meant escaping from The Machine—besides, as Kingsnorth writes, “art that doesn’t come from pain is just entertainment.” Much pain ensued as the author wrestled with the big questions: If the world is coming to an end, is it worth writing? Why write, anyway? “Am I trying to direct your thoughts here, or mine?” he wonders, agonizing about the meaning of it all, adding later that he feels unmoored in a world that has no culture but plenty of civilization, “and they are not the same thing." A little angst goes a long way, and it doesn’t help when Zen koans get mixed into the picture: If you don’t exist, are you really writing? In the end, a book that begins with the promise of adventure turns into a kind of journal of pondering and meditation, which is not at all a bad thing—think Alan Watts’ Cloud-Hidden. One wishes for a little of the sinew of Roger Deakins’ like-minded book Waterlog, but spiritual seekers with a mind to leave the workaday world will find that there’s plenty to think about as Kingsnorth works his way through his many questions.
One needs to be in the mood for lyrical lamentation, but Kingsnorth’s is a voice worth listening to.