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Tarka the Otter

3.69 of 5 stars 3.69  ·  rating details  ·  629 ratings  ·  51 reviews
Tarka the otter pursues an active life, sometimes playful and sometimes dangerous, in the Devonshire countryside.
Paperback, 279 pages
Published December 1st 1990 by Beacon Press (first published 1927)
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The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan DoyleLorna Doone by R.D. BlackmoreThe Pillars of the Earth by Ken FollettEvil Under the Sun by Agatha ChristieAnd Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
Books Set in Devon
17th out of 37 books — 15 voters
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott FitzgeraldWinnie-the-Pooh by A.A. MilneAll Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria RemarqueThe Sun Also Rises by Ernest HemingwayThe Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
Best Books of the Decade: 1920's
203rd out of 294 books — 527 voters


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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,553)
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K.D. Absolutely
Jan 04, 2013 K.D. Absolutely rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to K.D. by: 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die (2006-2012)
Shelves: 1001-core, animal, british
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
...more
Christina
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
...more
Laurence
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
Kristel
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
Conrad
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
Tom Johnson
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
3.5

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,
...more
Deanne
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.
Bob
May 13, 2014 Bob rated it 5 of 5 stars
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
...more
Thomas Hale
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
Sam
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.
Alex
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...
Den
Loved this book when I was younger and wanted an otter of my own when I was older
Becky
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
...more
Diane Warrington
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
...more
Stephen
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.
Katie
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
Patrick Caloz
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
Karen Mcilhargey
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
Amie
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
Gary Land
Williamson covers about two to three years in the life of an otter. The first two-thirds of the book focuses on the Darwinian struggle for existence--the constant search for food and fending off enemies--whether otters or other animals or men. The last third of the book revolves around an organized hunt for otters that is relentless in its quest for a kill. I do not know the history of this book but I wonder if Williamson was protesting such hunts. The author has obviously observed otters closel ...more
Yousra Bushehri
If I ever pick this book up again, I'm asking my friends to either smack me a couple times and remind me how much I hated it the first time around, or snatch it from my hands and throwing it into a pit of fire.

Yeah....I didn't like it.
Jacqueline Williams
I was obsessed with this book as a child even though it was sad. My Mum and Dad took me to see the movie as a birthday present, my 2 friends and sister invited to the party were not amused at this film!
Ian
This is one of those children's books that isn't. Rather than anthropomorphising animals and giving them human emotions and motives, Williamson impressively details the life and death struggle of life seen through the otter's eyes entirely. When Tarka escapes the hounds there is no gloating glance and smile over his shoulder, it is just sleep or eat. The book is a very impressive achievement, but sometimes the narrative does get smothered beneath the welter of tiny detail of flora and fauna. Wil ...more
Alison
This was my book set where we were on holiday. In some ways it was delightful, in some ways it was a bit dull with too much detail about the same things.
Daniel Hulmes
As a child, the film adaptation of the classic novel had a massive effect on me and ever since it has been an ambition of mine to read the source material. I certainly wasn't disappointed. The book is both stunningly beautiful and brutal, with Williamson not afraid to shy away from certain gory details that were part of life as an Otter living during the early 20th century.

Thankfully, Otters are no longer subjected to such regular persecution but Henry Williamson gives us a captivating historic
...more
Carrie
I haven't read up on the author, but you get the feeling that in writing this book he must have wandered the countryside on his hands and knees, sucking in all scents and feeling the texture of the ground and taking note of absolutely everything that was going on. The detail is amazing and beautiful, and I love the frequent tangents about the creatures that share Tarka's world. It's a dense book - not in the usual sense of difficult or heavy, but simply packed tight with description and a tremen ...more
Siân
I read this book because I'd heard it was good. Whoever told me that was mistaken. To be fair, the descriptive elements were excellent and the tale was told with the sensitivity that only long observation of otters can create but otters live lives in which they do little but eat, sleep, play and be hunted. However interesting that may be, it does not equate to twenty chapters of thick text in which nothing really happened. This book is only for true otter-lovers and fans of descriptive animal fi ...more
Danny
I remember buying this book a couple of years ago on a family holiday down to Devon (where the story is actually set) and have just got around to reading it. As a nature/animal lover, I found the story very touching and the descriptions of Tarka's world beautiful. At some stages I did find myself losing focus, probably due to how much descriptive language there is and how quickly the story flows, however by the end I felt like I was throughly satisfied and had enjoyed the read.
Val
The otter is making a comeback in Britain's rivers after many years when we rarely saw them. Salmon are increasing too. When Williamson wrote this otters were hunted because they sometimes killed salmon and he campaigned for their protection. (The decline of both otters and salmon was mainly due to run-off of agricultural chemicals. He would also have campaigned against that.)
This book was first published in 1927.
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