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Modern Nature

4.35  ·  Rating details ·  491 ratings  ·  46 reviews
In 1986 the controversial film-maker Derek Jarman discovered he was HIV positive, and decided to make a garden at his cottage on the bleak coast of Dungeness, where he also wrote these journals. Looking back over his childhood, his "coming out" in the 1960s and his cinema career, the book is at once a volume of autobiography, a lament for a lost generation and a celebratio ...more
Paperback, 320 pages
Published November 1st 1994 by Overlook Books (first published August 8th 1991)
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Average rating 4.35  · 
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Andrew Marshall
Jul 06, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recently, I visited the garden that film-maker Derek Jarman created in the shingle of windswept Dungerness in the shadow of the nuclear power station. It was one of the most beautiful sights I've ever been - with the wild flowers framed by driftwood, a wrecked boat, an anchor and other items found on the beach. I'd watched a couple of films by Jarman, but I've never been a fan, but I was so moved by his garden that I resolved to read the journals he kept in 1990 and 1991 while creating it.

The b
Thomas Lampion
Jul 12, 2012 rated it it was amazing
the best account of the AIDS epidemic ever written.
any fluffy 80's nostalgia so disgustingly rampant today will be eliminated.
this is the real 80's, the horrors of thatchers england, our best artists and thinkers dying
without filling even an iota of their true potential because of a lack in hospital funding,
medical attention, and human kindness, a society and government that quickly shunned them, not realizing
voices of a generation would be gone forever. this is the work of a genius, and we a
Jul 14, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: big-white-square
"'I can't believe swimming pools are conducive to serious thought.'"

"The Portuguese lad says 'I love your films' with an ever-so-winsome twinkle in his eyes- 'though I've never seen any of them'."

"In his bookshop Ian Shipley said his father 'knew' Jeremy Thorpe was riding for a fall because of his florid waistcoats. 'And you,' he said, 'are wearing brown shoes.'
I've always worn brown shoes, since my father warned me off them in the fifties. Spivs, lounge lizards, interesting 'uncles' wore brown
Jo Coleman
Jul 09, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I loved reading this - partly for the descriptions of the East Sussex coast where I spent a lot of time as a child, and partly because Derek Jarman quickly became a great imaginary friend. One minute he's carefully fretting over his films and the plants in his garden, the next he's cruising on Hampstead Heath and railing against Christianity, and then he goes for tea with the Pet Shop Boys and annoys Chris Lowe. When he becomes ill in the second half of the book, he journeys through it with imme ...more

p 33, 51 (kilvert), 75, 77, 91, 94, 102f., 106, 110 (lorca: colour is the eye's music), 127, 138, 152, 153, 221 (francis bacon: odour of gratitude), 226, 302
Anastasiya Mozgovaya
full of life, but also heartbreaking.
John Anthony
Oct 31, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is Derek Jarman's (film director, diarist, stage designer, author and gardener) journal covering the years 1990 and 1991. He had by this time been diagnosed HIV positive and was to die in 1994. It is immensely readable. Even when his health was failing he packed so much into his life and hence he's never short of things to write about. Fortunately, within his pages he allows himself to reminisce about growing up, his family, schooling, relationships and his out and out sexuality.

During the
Drew Pyke
Jan 04, 2013 rated it really liked it
There is no one else like Jarman in the movies or writing. This was written in the knowledge of being HIV positive which spurred a different creativity I think. A lot of the terms of reference go back to the grungy 70s and 80s (throbbing gristle, genesis p orridge etc) but throughout all that there are meditations on lowly weeds and seedlings in the barren landscape of Dungeness. Definitely recommend a visit to his Prospect Cottage!
Paloma Etienne
Dec 20, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I could almost taste, visualise, render in my imagination the shapes, the colours, the callouses on those brunches, feathered flowers and buds. It's Dungeness ...
Andrew Howdle
Aug 22, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Entertaining, thoughtful, and... defiant. Jarman writes with skill and emotion.
Jun 24, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Bettie, Wanda
From BBC radio 4 - Book of the week:
2019 marks 25 years since the death of director, writer and artist Derek Jarman. Modern Nature is Jarman’s chronicle of life in his remote cottage on the barren coast of Dungeness in the years after his HIV diagnosis. Facing an uncertain future, Jarman found solace in nature, growing all manner of plants. Some perished beneath wind and sea-spray while others flourished, creating brilliant, unexpected beauty in the wilderness.

Modern Nature is both a diary of th
Daniel Carrol
Oct 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2018
One of the most astounding books I've ever read.

It contains so much joy and happiness but also by equal measures loss, death, illness, queerness and perhaps more than anything else gardening.

The book effortlessly moves between diary entries and memoirs of Jarman's life growing up with a father who it seems resents his son, the isolation of boarding school and his experiences of being gay in the 60s when as the closest two men could be in public was drinking weak Nescafe from a duralex glass. It
Mar 22, 2020 rated it it was amazing
one of my new favorites. i read it because i loved the garden by jarman had had also seen a few others sebastian, some smiths and pet shop boys music videos, and recently jubilee. jarman is such an adept, poetic, and powerful voice moving through lyrical, personal, and historical voices to recount a difficult and moving but also deeply pleasurable time in his own life when living in his prospect cottage in dungeness. i found out about the book from olivia laing, of course, like others i'm sure, ...more
Corey Terrett
May 29, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I heard of this book after reading Olivia Laing's Funny Weather and had to order a copy straight away. This is a beautiful, tender, touching read about Derek Jarman and having AIDS, art, making a garden, friendship, and so much more. I think it added something even more when reading it in lockdown. I loved it and need to read more from him.
Equal parts charming and devastating
Jo Bevan
Aug 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Derek Jarman writes with an innate poetry, warmth and vigour, and the life he constructed is a fascinating one to inhabit through his eyes - rendered surprisingly relatable with his innermost reveries, hopes and fears laid bare. One of the most beautiful books I've ever read.
Michael Kowalchuk
Hauntingly intimate, Modern Nature allows us a glimpse inside the brilliant, tortured, petit bourgeois genius of Derek Jarman. While his films are at times inaccessible, opaque and self-indulgent, his diary beams with stoic compassion and endless curiosity. Jarman's plant-based anecdotes and descriptions of his lovely garden ground the diary in reality and add a sensory element to an otherwise bleak account of Jarman's HIV diagnosis and the last years of his life. Though carefully curated, we gr ...more
Aug 20, 2010 rated it really liked it
A very interesting journal from Derek Jarman. I chose to read it after a visit to Dungeness, and at first I just read the 'garden' bits and skipped a lot, but as I got to know Derek Jarman more through those bits, I read more and more (including some fairly frank descriptions of goings on at Hampstead Heath). He managed to stay very positive through his last years, dying of Aids.
May 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: queer-studies
An intimate diary of indignant rage and tender observations from an amateur gardener (and experimental filmmaker) losing his battle against HIV. Jarman's voice sparkles beyond the chasm of death, reminding readers of the quotidian pleasures that accompany the fight to survive.
Mar 12, 2008 rated it liked it
This book very much goes with "Derek Jarman's Garden". Whereas that was a story in pictures, this book comprises Derek's journals during the last years of his life
Barbara Brayshay
Oct 15, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This is one of my all time favorite books - it could be the one I would take to my Desert Island
This is an exceptional book.
I didn't know a lot about Derek Jarman except that he made films and he'd had a unique garden. "Modern Nature" is a journal covering January 1989 through September 1990. Well the focus of the journal if Jarman's garden it also variously covers his childhood, his youth in England as a gay man, his diagnosis as HIV positive, the making of the film "The Garden" and his illnesses in 1990.
Jarman did an undergraduate degree before going to art school. Through out his child
Tim Atkinson
Jan 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Part meditation, part explanation, part inspiration, this book is quite unlike any other I’ve read or am likely to read this year. It’s got under my skin in a way that’s difficult to describe of explain, other than the obvious fact that Jarman has a poetic turn of phrase that is immediately memorable. But it’s the subject matter, too - Modern Nature, as in the elements-defying garden Jarman made at Dungeness; modern nature, as in the relationships and rights and fights for equality by the gay co ...more
May 07, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Derek Jarman’s diaries from 1989 and 1990 are a dazzling collage of the personal, the artistic, the political, and the emotional. Veering between quotes from medieval her around and lists of what is in bloom in Dungeness, to designing his garden and painting, to memories of his life as an RAF brat, and fears for the future, both through his HIV status and the environment (global warming is mentioned—30 years ago!), it forced me to slow down and read small sections over a long period. This is not ...more
Phil Rhys Thomas
Now containing a typically thought-filled introduction by Olivia Laing, Modern Nature is Derek Jarman's first collection of journals. Mixing his creative life as an artist, writer and film-maker with his home life as an indefatigable and inventive gardener, it's also a record of the devastating impact an HIV diagnosis had in the late 80s/early 90s – and how Jarman's brilliant, fizzing lust for life could never be extinguished. "As I sweat it out in the early hours, a ‘guilty victim’ of the scour ...more
Josephine Ensign
Feb 01, 2019 rated it really liked it
Poignant and powerful, weaving together gay identity, autobiography, the early years of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, philosophy, and gardening on an unforgiving stretch of beach. This passage is stunning: "Today is the anniversary of my parents' wedding. How should I recall them? The relief I felt when they were gone, buried, and could no longer pry? That they remained like an echo in the silence of my privacy, though long dead? I could write of them with sympathy, forget to tell you that my heart dan ...more
Apr 23, 2020 rated it did not like it
DNF. I’ve tried three times and I just can’t get into this - not finding it enjoyable on any level, and it’s a really tough read. I think you have to be a Derek Jaman fan, because without that context I don’t find him a curious or engaging narrator. Ironically I came for the gardening and even that was a struggle without the context of knowing English plants and landscapes - what the hell is a shingle?
Nom Chompsky
Sep 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I mean, heartbreaking is obviously not a comprehensive description. Really meticulous diary. I like DJ’s writing so much better than his films. I don’t know how to talk about this right now without coming from a pretty emotional space, so I think I’ll just wrap this up here.
Tony Shelley
May 23, 2020 rated it liked it
Being a diarist myself, I was fascinated by these entries from Jarman’s home, Pilgrim Cottage at Dungeness. At times it was just disjointed ramble, but there are moments of real beauty, especially when he describes the bleak landscape, where he chose to spend his final, somewhat tragic years.
Joanna Halpin
May 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Just beautiful. Jarman is the antidote to everything. Every time I opened it I found something inspiring and hopeful.The front cover captures this book perfectly.
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Derek Jarman was an English film director, stage designer, artist, and writer.

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“But the wind does not stop for my thoughts. It whips across the flooded gravel pits drumming up waves on their waters that glint hard and metallic in the night, over the shingle, rustling the dead gorse and skeletal bugloss, running in rivulets through the parched grass - while I sit here in the dark holding a candle that throws my divided shadow across the room and gathers my thoughts to the flame like moths.
I have not moved for many hours. Years, a lifetime, eddy past: one, two, three: into the early hours, the clock chimes. The wind is singing now”
“Always becoming, never arriving. Life is at a standstill - only ideas flash past. In such confusion I find myself running after them: Hey! Stop! Stop! But they escape, leaving me staring at a grey English spring.” 3 likes
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