Emergency by Daisy Hildyard - an intricate hymn to nature

Emergency by Daisy Hildyard – an intricate hymn to nature | Pro Club Bd

Daisy Hildyard’s second novel, Emergency, is a quiet, intricate hymn to nature set in the early days of lockdown. Her debut novel, the Somerset Maugham Prize winner hunter in the snow, intertwining an art historical detective story with a meditation on family and identity. This was followed by a collection of essays The second bodythat question the boundaries between animal and human experience. Again, in a work that exudes a distinct coolness, Hildyard writes with a scientist’s inquisition about the supposedly separate species that interbred to bring about the coronavirus outbreak – just one of the “emergencies” alluded to in the title .

Like Quarantine itself, this is a novel with an elastic strangeness that glides seamlessly between the familiar and the surreal. “Since I’ve been isolated, I don’t feel like the disease is real in the world out there,” says the unnamed narrator. Trapped alone in a flat in an equally anonymous northern English town, she drifts back to memories of her childhood in the nearby countryside, where four houses on the outskirts of a village fuel intense social hierarchies among the children living there. (Hildyard herself grew up in rural Yorkshire.)

At the edge of overgrown fields and farmland and quarrying land, the narrator explores and observes life in the company of her best friend Clare, who lives next door. Theirs are far from a timeless or perfect idyll — Clare’s father works in quarrying for a Canadian company that brings “new mustard-colored machines” to dig deeper and deeper into the earth and disrupt wildlife. “During the work I didn’t see any sand martins or kestrels there – too noisy.” Clare, later in the book, is prone to illness. What emerges is a Thomas Hardy-meets-Virginia-Woolf coming-of-age tale that, while touted as a pastoral, skillfully subverts the entire genre. Just take the set pieces with the cow Ivy getting stuck in a bog with a bull and making a “wet mashing” noise. Rescued by firefighters, they inadvertently create a Site of Scientific Interest, a home for a “rare species of coiled-up worms,” ​​by stirring up the mud.

The problems and concerns of the adults in their lives flow into these scenes in a comical, often poignant way. While she and Clare are watching TV at home, a young farmer knocks on the door and asks for help bringing in his cows. The animals are heading for wild garlic fields that will “spoil the milk for weeks”. And then there is nature, which is even more cruel, sometimes towards humans. Mrs. Carr, the teacher who lives in the village and whom the children think is old, becomes a mother but first loses a baby who is born “too early” and dies. “Ms. Carr looked older than ever.”

The prevailing mood is not unlike that presented in the opening pages of the book, which describe a kestrel ‘hovering’ over a trembling vole. Something in this book is forever on the brink of harm or escape and rescue. “The kestrel had stopped again and my gaze moved up and down, drawing a direct line between them, like an elevator between two floors of a building.” In this case, the narrator recalls trying to intervene and the bird’s prey to save from their demise. Not everything survives, but unexpected renewal often follows—according to the sheltered, coiled-up worms. After the greatest nature melodrama of recent times Emergency is a thoughtful, balanced reflection on how much change we humans can ever make among animals.

Emergency by Daisy Hildyard, Fitzcarraldo Editions £12.99 (paperback), 224 pages

Summer books 2022

Last week, FT writers and critics shared their favorites. Some highlights are:

Monday: Economics by Martin Wolf
Tuesday: Surroundings of Pilita Clark
Wednesday: Fiction by Laura Battle
Thursday: Story by Tony Barber
Friday: Politics by Gideon Rachman
Saturday: The Critics’ Choice

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