A friend happened to meet Edmund de Waal at this year's Venice Biennale, and in telling us about the encounter he was so persuasive about this book, which had made him seek out de Waal, that I resolved to read it. I'm so glad I did. It had been sitting on the shelf here forever, and while I had been aware of it, I thought it was about netsuke. It is, and so much more.
There are a few writers for whom I will read anything they care to offer. Rebecca Solnit is one of them. She never fails to delight me, both with the ways she builds a sentence and, even more so, the way she builds bridges between ideas. Somehow, River of Shadows had eluded me for a while, but the light it throws on the character of Muybridge and Leland Stanford and how their joint obsession ultimately gave rise to the movies is beyond fascinating.
Sally Mann is a photographer of some notoriety. She is also, it turns out, an amazingly good writer able to create word pictures every bit as nuanced and beguiling as her picture pictures. An interesting question is whether, had she not been a renowned photographer, we would ever have learned what a fine writer she is. Would she have been prompted to write her memoir had she not been invited to give the Massey Lectures in the History of American Civilization at Harvard?
What a wonderful book. When it first came out and got lots of praise I stupidly decided that it was not for me, possibly because the praise tended to focus on lyrical nature writing and that is not something I enjoy. However, my friend Nicola Davies was adamant that I give it a shot. I did, and was entranced from the word go.