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Tarka the Otter

3.76  ·  Rating Details ·  1,025 Ratings  ·  70 Reviews
Tarka the otter pursues an active life, sometimes playful and sometimes dangerous, in the Devonshire countryside.
Paperback, 279 pages
Published November 1st 1990 by Beacon Press (MA) (first published 1927)
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The Great Gatsby by F. Scott FitzgeraldSteppenwolf by Hermann HesseSiddhartha by Hermann HesseWinnie-the-Pooh by A.A. MilneAll Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
Best Books of the Decade: 1920's
167th out of 387 books — 904 voters
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Books Set in Devon
11th out of 54 books — 19 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 2,523)
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K.D. Absolutely
Jan 04, 2013 K.D. Absolutely rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to K.D. by: 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die (2006-2012)
Shelves: 1001-core, british, animal
This is the life story of an otter called Tarka that means "Water Wanderer." What I like about this book is that I was able to learn so many things about an animal that I have not seen in the real world. I do not even remember seeing one in a number of zoos, both local and overseas, that I have so far been to.

The writing is simple but there are so many otter-related terms that I had to google or guess while reading. First I thought I would understand the story without looking up for those words
Aug 22, 2015 Richard rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: h-reviews, b-nature
This is the most uncompromisingly "animal" of all animal stories, more like a TV nature documentary than a novel. On the one hand, the writing itself is as beautiful as the place it describes: north Devon with its deep wooded valleys and rich farmland, its high moors where wild ponies graze under huge skies, its headland-fringed coast with the tallest sea-cliffs anywhere in England, are lovingly described by a Londoner who came to know every inch of it. But on the other hand, there's no moral, n ...more
An un-sentimental book about an otter - and about hunting otters.

In this remarkable book, we follow Tarka the Otter through his entire life. We are there from his first to his last breath, through the joys and trials of his life, struggling through the harshest of winters, his life alone and with other otters, as a cub and as a grown otter with cubs of his own.

This is a hard book to rate. It follows the life of an animal but without trying to explain the animal with human feelings while still re
Hákon Gunnarsson
I listened to a audio version of this book, and even though I'm not sure, I suspect it may have been an abridged version. One thing is certain, it was narrated by someone I have nothing but respect for, David Attenborough. He was the presenter of almost all the greatest nature programs that I watched on TV as a kid. The fact that he is still at it, and doing good work is pretty amazing.

The reason I bring up Attenborough's nature shows is simple, listening to this book was a bit like watching one
Oct 03, 2008 Laurence rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book follows the life of an otter called Tarka. As he grows up from a young cub, we are drawn into his fascinating adventures in the rivers of North Devon. Every detail of his life is described in wonderful detail - from hunting for food to searching for his long-lost mate, from bathing on riverside boulders to escaping from the jaws of angry hounds. Such is our attachment to him by the end of the book that the sad ending is a bitter pill to swallow. Tarka the Otter has an extremely descrip ...more
Tarka the Otter is written in a very realistic way which doesn't humanize the animals. The language is beautiful and - not being a native speaker - I also learned lots of new words. Once I realized that by dogs, bitches and cubs the otters were meant and not actual dogs I also understood what was going on!
Thsi book is often called a children's book but I surely wouldn't have liked it as a child. In spite of all the positive things mentioned above it was still all in all quite boring.
Aug 18, 2011 Deanne rated it really liked it
Finished on the day that it was announced that otters had been spotted in Kent. This was the last county that these creatures had yet to return to since they were nearly wiped out in the 1970's. Great news as it means the rivers are heathier and it's an indication of what can be done.
Feb 23, 2015 Stephen rated it it was amazing
This is not The Wind in the Willows (another of my favorite books for different reasons) or Watership Down (another). Naturalistic. It's not animals as people like WIW. Bloodier and less romantic than WD. Almost reads like poetic non-fiction. The book is so loved in the County of Devon that there is (or was until recently) a train called the Tarka Express that ran through the country of the two rivers.
There are many editions; one recent one has many photographs of the sites mentioned.
May 10, 2016 Jessica rated it liked it
This book took me back to a particular moment when I was little, in front of the TV, watching a documentary about orcas. After that one I decided that I didn’t like documentaries. There you are watching the beauty of an orca for half an hour, soft slow music in the background, beautiful footage of the killer whale floating effortlessly in the vivid blue, beauty and grace; getting all emotional when she gives birth and melting over her offspring… and then just like that the overall mood of the
Jan 20, 2016 Kristel rated it really liked it
This book was written in 1927. I give it four stars because it is ahead of its time as a fictional work that addresses ecology and other scientific premises so much that it begins to feel like a true story. It is set in the West Country of England or the county of Devon. Devonshire is about 200 miles from London. The language is a bit hard on the American reader because it uses a lot of words that defy meaning even in the dictionary such as fitch which I think is a weasel. The author also lists ...more
Emily Randall
This is a classic aimed at older children. It is very unique as it is written in the perspective of an animal that has not been humanised within the narrative. It contains a bleak picture indicating the dangers faced by otters prior to the new laws set to protect them since its publication and some perils still faced today! It indicates the harshness of human kind who's persecution of them and pollution nearly resulted in their extinction.

There are is a glossary of local terminology in the back
Aug 25, 2009 Alex rated it really liked it
Shelves: childhood-reads, 1001
The one book from my childhood that I'd like to re-read someday. Looks like it has faded into obscurity in this part of the world...
Oct 29, 2012 Conrad rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
I first read this book sometime in my early teen years and although I didn't remember the details I never forgot the story. Originally written in the late 1920's, it tells the story of the life of a brave and intelligent little otter named Tarka. In re-reading it I was surprised by how unsentimental it was - it dealt with the life of the otter in a factual but not un-emotional way. The reader cannot help but feel empathy for Tarka as he is constantly harried by man and dog, but also joy as he fi ...more
Nov 08, 2011 Patrick rated it it was ok
I learned something important to me from reading this book: even if it focuses on your favorite animal, that doesn't mean you'll enjoy it. This may have been great fiction in the year it was written, but now it falls flat. For me at least. You could turn the book to any random page and probably nothing would be happening. There were few characters and they weren't well-developed or interesting...probably because they're feral animals. I felt a little pity at the ending, but it certainly wasn't m ...more
George Allen
Feb 25, 2015 George Allen rated it it was amazing
Rather than buy this book I suggest you purchase Henry Williamson's Animal Saga. You can get it second hand, dead cheap. It includes Tarka,plus 3 other stories and short post scipt by the author explaining what all the strange words in Tarka mean. He admits he made a couple of the up, but most are local dialect or hunter terminology.

As for Tarka, you either like this sort of book or you don't. Williamson was striving to write the most truthful account of a wild animal's life, stripped of sentime
Tom Johnson
Nov 25, 2014 Tom Johnson rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Animal stories started my reading habit and it's been many years since I've read one - found Tarka listed on the back cover of a 1936 Penguin paperback, Blunden's Undertones of War, looked up "Tarka" and discovered a truly great book - Williamson, an early believer in Hitler, is now a bit of a leper (like the Norwegian Hamsun), though that bit of history doesn't alter the artistry of Tarka. In my youth, 12 or so, I experienced Emil E Liers first hand, a local writer and naturalist who maintained ...more
Eric Hinkle
Jul 30, 2014 Eric Hinkle rated it really liked it

Possibly the most detailed novel about an animal that you'll ever read. Williamson was essentially a woodsman hermit when he wrote this, so it makes sense that he would get completely into the heads of the surrounding animals and shy away from human contact. Which is what he does here. He describes everything about not only the lives of the otters, but of the birds, badgers, fish, hounds, and other creatures. Literally the only dialog in the whole novel is from the hunters with their insane,
Nov 11, 2015 Susan rated it liked it
As many have mentioned, this is an unsentimental, unanthropomorphized recounting of an otter's life. And because of this, it is not particularly good as a story. Otters don't have long-term goals, or character flaws to overcome. They eat, they wander, they play, they mate. None of this constitutes a plot. What this book is, though, is a love letter to the Devonshire countryside in which it takes place. Perhaps because I had an illustrated copy, with photographs of the places mentioned, I was mor ...more
Apr 02, 2015 Sam rated it really liked it
In reading Tarka the Otter one must cast from ones mind the Walt Disney view of animals in fiction, where they are are used merely as conduits for cartoon silliness to portray a frothy sentimentality irrespective of their true natures. In reading this book one must be willing to delve into the unrelenting, hyper-realistic, almost documentary portrait of wild animals conveyed through Williamson's simple yet poetic prose. In portraying the otter and his life in such a way, immersing the reader utt ...more
May 13, 2014 Bob rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science
The life of an otter in Devon during the 1920's is remarkable for its keen observation, lack of sentimentality or anthropomorphism, and the use of partly-invented regional/poetic language that serves to distance and objectify the narrative while simultaneously delighting the ear:
"Yellow from ash and elm and willow, buff from oak, rusty brown from the chestnut, scarlet from bramble -- the waters bore away the first coloured leaves of the year. Beeches preserved their tawny form in rain and hail
Thomas Hale
Aug 23, 2014 Thomas Hale rated it really liked it
One of those Children's Classics that I never had growing up. It's a chunky tome of a book, which is remarkable given how small the "plot" synopsis actually is. Williamson writes about the life of an otter named Tarka, from "the first year" to "the last year", and covers everything from his childhood to being pursued by hunters and hounds. It's really driven by the author's absolute love of nature, and so you get these gorgeous passages about rivers and different creatures who'll appear for a si ...more
Sep 22, 2009 Sam rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: classics, childrens
A timeless book that shows life through the eyes of an Otter, Tarka, in the beautiful Devon countryside. I remember not liking the ending of this book and refusing to ever read it again, however I think it is one I shall try and revisit.
Aug 26, 2011 Den rated it really liked it
Shelves: teen, 2010-and-before
Loved this book when I was younger and wanted an otter of my own when I was older
Oct 10, 2016 Ben rated it really liked it
A whole different kettle of fish from wildlife novels by other authors, such as Watership Down and the Duncton chronicles. In fact, reading Tarka the Otter really sheds light on just how fantastical those other books are. It attempts much more to get inside the skin of a 'real' creature - in this case an otter. Tarka and the other creatures that inhabit the book, not as intelligent as those fantasy rabbits and moles, are believable as animals. Tarka doesn' talk, is moved by animal instincts, for ...more
Nov 09, 2012 Becky rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Reading this book is like watching National Geographic. It's sort of slow, there's no real plot, and lots of small animals die. Seriously, you know how in Nat Geo there's all these scenes of animals being killed and you can see the whites of their terrified eyes? A similar vibe happens here. I think it's a very fair, honest representation of wildlife and to that I say:

It's ridiculously descriptive. Seriously, this book makes Tolkien's descriptiveness seem tame. The beginning of every chapter exp
Diane Warrington
Mar 27, 2016 Diane Warrington rated it really liked it
I tracked down this book after watching a Natural World documentary about otters that took it's inspiration from this book. I was not disappointed. By today's standards some people may find the writing a bit convoluted but what I felt was that it showed how observant and caring Henry Williamson was as he chronicled the life of this otter over the year.
The issue of anthropomorphism does arise in places but even David Attenborough has been guilty of that. If it makes people more conscious of conse
Jan 10, 2014 Katie rated it liked it
This reads like a dry nature documentary, detailing the life of an otter without anthropomorphizing the animals or glossing over the harshness of nature and men. I happen to enjoy nature documentaries, but the problem with reading instead of watching one is that I have NO IDEA what some of these animals are by name alone. Google images became my reading companion, though I had to be a little careful when looking up cockchafers (a type of beetle!) and various species of tits (birds, of course). I ...more
Karen Mcilhargey
Nov 14, 2011 Karen Mcilhargey rated it really liked it
Shelves: children-s
I actually enjoyed this book by the end but it was difficult to read in certain parts. I found myself putting the book down, as a result of dryness, or at other times just simply needing a break from the graphic otter hunt. I know Henry Williamson was a lover of nature and this is very evident in "Tarka the Otter." As a reader, there is a raw experience of being outside: trekking through the forest, through rivers and along the British coast while being in the comfort of your home. At the end of ...more
Dec 10, 2014 Amie rated it liked it
The story follows the life of Tarka, which means "Little Water Wanderer, or Wandering as Water", and that is what he does. It is written as if we were observing him, but from his perspective and it isn't a cutesy talking animal perspective. The attention to detail is great. It felt very natural. We follow him from his days as a cub playing with his siblings, to his finding a mate. We also follow as he is hunted again and again. I felt that this helped move the story along, and kept me reading. I ...more
A.P. Jessett
Feb 09, 2016 A.P. Jessett rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Lovers of English wildlife novels
A classic English wildlife novel that made a profound impression on me.

It's a book you either love or hate, full of intricate detail about the natural world while weaving an engrossing tale around the life of an otter. I love it because of the poetic way Henry Williamson describes the wild world of its characters.
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Henry William Williamson (1 December 1895 – 13 August 1977) was an English soldier, naturalist, farmer and ruralist writer known for his natural history and social history novels. He won the Hawthornden Prize for literature in 1928 with his book Tarka the Otter.
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