Book review: ‘The Seafarers’ by Stephen Rutt

A journey among birds.

‘The Seafarers’ by Stephen Rutt

Seabirds seem to be a popular subject for new books at the moment. We’ve had Adam Nicholson’s The Seabird’s Cry and Tim Dee’s Landfill (both excellent), and now we have Stephen Rutt’s equally enjoyable The Seafarers.

I very much appreciated the unpretentious nature of this book. Rutt travels around different parts of the UK studying seabirds. In the process, we learn a bit about what makes him tick, and quite a lot about seabirds.

The writing is how I prefer it: clear and uncomplicated, mixing memoir, opinion, nature writing, history, and science. The occasional textual flourishes never seem out of place. Here, for example, is Rutt describing the extended Northern Isles midsummer dusk:

The northwards tilt of the earth is sufficient for the perpetual Arctic summer to bleed south and colour the northern horizon at night with a lingering sunset.

I wish more people would write sentences like that, slipping a little science into their descriptions.

As to the birds, it was refreshing to read a nature writer admit he isn’t really into gulls, and finding the popularity of puffins a little irritating. Rutt also made me feel less of an idiot for struggling to distinguish between common and Arctic terns.

Reading this book made me look forward even more to my annual late-summer holiday on the Anglesey coast. It also made me realise (yet again) that, after a gap of over thirty years, I really should try to get back to Shetland some time.

Highly recommended.

Disclosure: I received a free review copy of this book from the publisher.


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