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Tarka the Otter

3.78  ·  Rating details ·  1,296 ratings  ·  90 reviews
Tarka the otter pursues an active life, sometimes playful and sometimes dangerous, in the Devonshire countryside.
Paperback, 238 pages
Published 1963 by Puffin Books (first published 1927)
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Osred He was killed by the otter-hound, Deadlock: "And while they [the otter-hunters] stood there silently, a great bubble rose out of the depths, and…moreHe was killed by the otter-hound, Deadlock: "And while they [the otter-hunters] stood there silently, a great bubble rose out of the depths, and broke, and as they watched, another bubble shook to the surface, and broke; and there was a third bubble in the sea-going waters, and nothing more."(less)
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Manny
Jun 04, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: children


Q: Why do they call it tarka dhal?

A: (view spoiler)
K.D. Absolutely
Aug 31, 2012 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, 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
Richard
Aug 22, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 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
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
...more
Ellinor
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.
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
Rosemary
Dec 03, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 1001-books
A memorable story of a Devonshire otter and the otter hunting that went on until otters almost died out in Britain in the 1970s.

Unlike some animal story authors, Williamson was as realistic as possible and doesn't have the otters talking to each other in words, so there's virtually no dialogue (just a few hunters shouting to each other). This makes it a slow and sometimes eye-glazing read.

But there are some lovely descriptions of the Devon countryside and waters, and I think this is one I'll k
...more
Laurence
Oct 03, 2008 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
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.
Judith Johnson
I acknowledge that this book is a classic of its kind, and that HW must have put in huge efforts, and was passionate about writing 'the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth' - his deliberate aim and ambition, as it says in the foreword 'How the Book came to be Written' by Eleanor Graham. I am glad that it was a success for him, and cannot deny the beauty and attested accuracy of some of his descriptions. For a naturalist, it must be a joy, and certainly at times I was deeply impresse ...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.
Jessica
3.5
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
...more
Kristel
Oct 07, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Oct 13, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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
...more
Osred
May 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is one of my favourite novels.

When I was a school student it was a set text, presumably because it's about an animal and children are supposed to like animal stories. In fact, none of us kids could understand it properly. "Tarka" is definitely a novel for adults - and especially for those few adults who thrill to read the English language when it is employed by a literary genius.

I have re-read "Tarka" several times since leaving school, and each time discovered more aspects of it which sup
...more
Patrick
Oct 16, 2010 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Alex
Aug 25, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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...
Tracey
Not a Disney-fied version of animal life. A stark tale of life for otters and other wild life of the English countryside, up against man, predators and the everyday struggle for survival. And yet, at times, the interaction of the otters with one another, the descriptions of the countryside and nature, the changing of the seasons, is beautiful and gentle. Not for children under 12.
Abby
Sep 15, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A cross between Watership Down and Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, but sadly, no where near as good as either
Claus Brinker
May 17, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a fantastic and bizarre account of the life of an otter filled with lush details of the ecology of North Devon in the early 20th century.
Becky
Nov 09, 2012 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
...more
Susan
Nov 02, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Denzil Walton
Sep 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Tarka the Otter is no work of fiction! It’s a true story! This is what makes it a great nature book. Henry Williamson devoted years of his life to tramp around the Devon countryside, tracking otters, observing them, making detailed notes on their behaviour, and often sleeping rough. The result is a wonderful account not only of generations of otters but of the surrounding countryside and the other animals – and humans – that played a role in this thrilling story.

Marvel at the patience that the a
...more
Sam
Sep 22, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: childrens, classics
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.
Den
Aug 26, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: teen, 2010-and-before
Loved this book when I was younger and wanted an otter of my own when I was older
Bettie☯
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
James
Feb 11, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Previously, I read Henry Williamson's later novel "Salar the Salmon," and heard that Tarka was the more popular book. Although Salar was a bit challenging to read due of the elaborate and descriptive narrative, it was also quite enjoyable for those very reasons. And I learned quite a bit about the life of a fish. Regarding Tarka, I honestly don't feel like I got to know this otter nearly as well as I got to know a fish from the previous Williamson novel. Tarka is divided into two parts: The Firs ...more
Virginprune
Mar 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Although generally thought of as a children's book, this really is just as absorbing and moving to read as an adult.
Written almost 100 years ago, using a very broad array of local and (now) archaic words to describe nature, it's a vocabulary-expander, and for me even the two-page glossary at the back wasn't enough. For today's city kids, I think a lot of the detail may be hard to colour in, but that simply argues for a re-read later!
To be honest, I last read the story so long ago that I remembe
...more
Kris McCracken
Certainly the best novel that I've read featuring an otter as the main character. Certainly a unique narrative device, and one that has aged surprisingly well. The otters are the good guys, with humans playing their usual roles as enemy to all things good and pure.
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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.
“When the bees’ feet shake the bells of the heather, and the ruddy strings of the sap-stealing dodder are twined about the green spikes of the furze, it is summertime on the commons. Exmoor is the high country of the winds, which are to the falcons and the hawks: clothed by whortleberry bushes and lichens and ferns and mossed trees in the goyals, which are to the foxes, the badgers, and the red deer: served by rain-clouds and drained by rock-littered streams, which are to the otters.” 1 likes
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