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The Grassling

3.49  ·  Rating details ·  86 ratings  ·  20 reviews
'A subtle, moving celebration of place and connectedness . . . The Grassling brings the sounds, smells and sights of the countryside alive like few other books. Burnett stretches the limits of prose, infusing it with poetic intensity to create a powerful, original voice' PD Smith, Guardian

What fills my lungs is wider than breath could be. It is a place and a language torn,
Hardcover, 256 pages
Published March 28th 2019 by Allen Lane (first published March 7th 2019)
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Average rating 3.49  · 
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Viv JM
This is such a unique book - a blend of nature writing, memoir and poetry. There were a lot of descriptive passages that I enjoyed as well as very astute and arresting observations about land and belonging. However, this is very much a prose book written by a poet and at times it just felt too dreamy for me personally - I would read whole chapters and whilst enjoying the feel and rhythm of the words, could not tell you anything of what the chapter was "about". This detracted from the enjoyment f ...more
I read the first 55 pages. This is a nature memoir of sorts, built out of short essays whose titles run from A to Z. Burnett teaches in Birmingham but her roots are in Ide, Devon, where her 80-year-old father is in hospital at the time of the book’s writing, and in Kenya. She has previously published poetry, and is going for extreme lyricism in the prose here, which at times makes it feel overwritten (especially in the prologue). There are some really pretentious passages, like a “found poem” li ...more
Naomi Carlill
Jan 13, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favourites
Such a pleasure to read. This refreshing reflection was just the medicine I needed to start this new year. I want to hold onto this book forever.
Nov 14, 2020 rated it it was amazing
“The soil needs its own dictionary.”

This review is totally not going to give this beautiful book justice. I read it for our Climate Justice bookclub and its a wonderful geological memoir combining nostalgic and heartwarming poetry with nature writing in a search for belonging.

It’s not my ‘kind’ of book and found it tricky to read but I’m in awe of the writing, the author and the words. Unlike classic white man nature writers, Burnett brings the nature to life. She uses all the senses and paint
Jul 25, 2020 rated it it was ok
Shelves: book-club
I really wanted to like The Grassling -- the words and imagery are just stunning and I found it very inspirational in certain ways, but in the end it was tough going and was far too abstract and tedious for me. I couldn't get behind any of the chapters when she is "The Grassling" and ended up trying hard to grasp at any tangible story. This is really *pure and beautiful nature writing*, but in saying this, I feel that it is not really for everyone, as much as I enjoyed the parts more involving t ...more
Sally Piper
May 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
A poetic memoir that traverses the landscape of grief and home with an eye for the minute detail of the connections between people and places.
Aug 01, 2019 added it
Shelves: read-in-2019
A favorite excerpt: “Lightness is both a color and a weight. [...] The soil needs its own dictionary.”
Jul 04, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
‘This freedom is a feeling [...] that I will try to carry with me wherever I go.' 'In the times that lie ahead, as territories narrow and common borders close, I will think of this forest. The clumps of moss, the cool of water, the hills that hold. To remember this [...] whenever I land against something telling me I shouldn’t be there.’
The Grassling is a beautiful book. It is memoir, poetry and nature writing at its best. Burnett’s prose blends these genres and stretches across body, time and
Natalia Clarke
May 11, 2021 rated it really liked it
This is a unique book, reads like one long poem, complex metaphors and lyrical descriptions in every sentence, which makes for a long read, as every words needs to be taken in. Very good poetic example of prose, but it might be too much for many and it is definitely not for everyone. I get a sense this would have taken a long time to write and something that will not be replicated again, which is what memoir should be. Interesting, unique, hard to get going with and need to get into a specific f ...more
Zoë Siobhan
Jun 28, 2020 rated it really liked it
"Where is the Society of Soil, Mourning and Metamorphosis, I wonder, where people who wander around fields slowly turning into something they don't recognize gather for lunch and read transcriptions of soil song?"

I'm not used to reading a lot of poetry so this was quite a departure from what I'm used to with nature memoir and tbh some of it probably went over my unlearned head. That said, I love soil more than most people can comprehend so this immersive and often bizarre homage to rubbing your
Sue Hampton
Aug 17, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A totally original book is a rare treasure and this is full of love, empathy and understanding, with daringly poetic prose that evokes all the sensual beauty of the natural world. I sometimes had to read it aloud to savour the language, and as someone who loved my dad very deeply I connected emotionally with the narrator's relationship with a dying father. Gorgeousness on every page. ...more
May 16, 2020 rated it liked it

A poet, roaming the Devon lands of her dying father and of his forefathers, the author likes hiding in hedgerows and swimming through soil. She writes beautifully about soil, ground, loam, rotifers. Words, beautiful nature words including Olde English. A bit bonkers sometimes but calming to read.
Sarah Swarbrick
Aug 04, 2020 rated it liked it
A mixture of memory, story, memoir and poetry this story defies easy description. Full of lush descriptions of the land around her as she walks in grief, Burnett draws the threads of land and family together beautifully.
Jul 23, 2020 rated it liked it
Echoing the other comments, it's a beautifully written evocative book combining the history of the countryside with that of one family, evolving and growing through time. However, best dropped in and out off so has been returned to the library without being finished. ...more
May 04, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: borrowed, may-2021
Review to follow.
Rebecca Stonehill
Jul 07, 2020 rated it liked it
At turns both fascinating and unfathomable.
Zahrah Vawda
Jan 02, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Beautifully written, a favourite of 2020/ all time
Nov 18, 2020 rated it liked it
I agree with the other reviews - very beautifully written, but doesn't really go anywhere - or if it does, too slowly for me. I didn't get to the end ...more
Feb 13, 2021 rated it it was ok
it was difficult for me to engage with the narrator or her subject. I admit to abandoning the book part way through.
Apr 15, 2021 rated it really liked it
Incredibly elegant written and crafted. The words flow and pour over one another to create a unique atmosphere. As others have said though is you struggle to recall what was said.
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