Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Ash before Oak” as Want to Read:
Ash before Oak
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Ash before Oak

3.68  ·  Rating details ·  59 ratings  ·  21 reviews
Ash before Oak, the winner of the inaugural Fitzcarraldo Editions Novel Prize, is written in the form of a journal written by a solitary man on a secluded Somerset estate. Ostensibly a nature diary, chronicling the narrator’s interest in the local flora and fauna and the passing of the seasons, Ash before Oak is also the story of a breakdown told slantwise, and of the ...more
Paperback, 536 pages
Published April 17th 2019 by Fitzcarraldo Editions
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Ash before Oak, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Ash before Oak

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 3.68  · 
Rating details
 ·  59 ratings  ·  21 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of Ash before Oak
Apr 22, 2019 rated it did not like it
When I read in the blurb that Ash Before Oak is Ostensibly a nature diary, chronicling the narrator’s interest in the local flora and fauna and the passing of the seasons, Ash before Oak is also the story of a breakdown told slantwise, I was excited. When I am not reading, I am a nature photographer and my Facebook/Twitter feeds are filled with pictures that I take to chronicle the passing seasons and the beauty of the natural world. At weekends, I try to persuade people to buy these pictures ...more
May 29, 2019 rated it really liked it
Jeremy Cooper’s Ash before Oak consists of hundreds of short diary entries, in which the narrator recounts what he sees around him in nature while living secluded in Somerset countryside in the early 2000s. Writing is mainly a therapeutic tool for him, an attempt to cope with his increasingly and alarmingly serious depression. He is, in fact, very aware of what he’s writing and is often self-degrading whenever he catches himself trying to write poetically and not truthfully about his ...more
Gumble's Yard
Apr 21, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2019
Ash Before Oak, some Antique Roadshow, country-living bloke
Oak Before Ash, won the Fitzcarraldo Novel Prize Cash

Paul has written a detailed review of this book here ( with some alternative versions of the country-rhyme, and he an excellent job of picking out many of the strong features of this book.

I will just add a few, unfortunately more negative, comments of my own:

- It is becoming something of a cliché to include a few black and white photos in a
Paul Fulcher
I go on and on about birds. What am I actually saying?
And the rest? The bulk of life, the stuff I see and think and decline to write about?

Ash before Oak by Jeremy Cooper is the 24th novel from the wonderful Fitzcarraldo Editions (Claire-Louise Bennett, Mathias Enard, Camila Grudova, John Keene, Esther Kinsky, Olga Tokarczuk and Alejandro Zambra), of which I have read 20, and was the winner of their inaugural Novel Prize.

The novel is ostensibly in the form of an almost daily nature journal,
Apr 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
Who is this man, this troubled man whose sombre diary entries we read with curious fascination? We never learn his name because there is no direct dialogue. Names, anyhow, bother him. In an October entry, he writes: “Compulsive, this need to name things, so to give them meaning. I name birds and tools and things, while unable to nail a helpful thought about the personal feelings which most matter to me.”

Full review here:
Jonathan Perks
Apr 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
Ash Before Oak is a pastoral diary - the writer coping with mental health problems which insinuate themselves into the narrative and sit starkly against his nature observations. The reader learns of his interests, his friends, his declining health and subsequent return from darker places than his garden and country life. It is strangely intriguing and his journey both physically and mentally are suggestive of both the poetry and life of John Clare and Richard Mabey’s biographical telling of his ...more
Apr 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Although Thoreau is never quoted in Cooper's novel about recovering (if that's the word) from suicidal depression, one line from "Walden" summarizes much of the emotional and intellectual territory covered in "Ash before Oak": "I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived." Our narrator chooses life over death, but not before a ...more
Dec 27, 2019 rated it really liked it
"29 October
Used to say that, on principle, I do not miss: people, places, work. A delusion. A deceit, maybe. A defence, certainly.
Having never been able to grieve, I am full fit to burst of sorrow."
Eòghann MacLeòid
May 24, 2019 rated it liked it
I admire the Fitzcarraldo books immensely from an aesthetic point of view: those wonderfully typeset pages, the austere covers. I always pick them up when I come across them in bookshops, letting my fingers run along the spines. Ash Before Oak piqued my interest for a few reasons: I have recently started keeping a journal regularly and I'm fascinated by the journals of others, finding it impossible not to compare them to my own; I briefly visited Somerset just over eight years ago and remember ...more
Terry Pitts
Jul 22, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
A daily diary is a risky format for a novelist to chose. Unless the novelist is willing to defy the "rules" of a diary and reflect deeply on the past, the novelist is essentially ceding the ability to synthesize in order to capture a more powerful sense of immediacy. Immediacy is both the strength and the weakness of Jeremy Cooper's novel Ash Before Oak, a somewhat lengthy book detailing the daily struggles of a man in his mid-fifties who moves from London to the countryside in order to cope ...more
Nov 01, 2019 rated it liked it
I'm gonna be honest, I'm totally sitting on the fence with this one. If I felt that this was purely a novel - ie. a work of fiction - then I would probably rate it higher. But, but... There is this palpable sense that our unnamed narrator, a 50-something man now living in Somerset, but who has lots of contacts in the art/antique world, is actually just a thinly-veiled portrait of the author himself. And as we read on, this lack of distinction started to irritate me. Either write and publish a ...more
Nov 07, 2019 rated it liked it
“Reciting the names of birds and plants is such a British thing to do.”

I loved the lengthy nature descriptions in “Ash before Oak.” Much of the novel is set in a secluded part of Somerset's Quantock Hills. The unnamed author has withdrawn to live in a cottage to learn to cope with his mental health problems. He turns to nature to find the will to live. “Ash before Oak” is the journal he keeps, struggling to express himself. It contains beautiful observations, such as:

“These insect lives
Jan 29, 2020 rated it liked it
Fitzcarraldo publishes some of my favorite authors (often before I can get their books in the US), so I'm always thrilled when I come across one of their books at a sale, especially one that sounded so up my alley. Unfortunately, as others have noted, it's a little bit of a letdown. It's either an homage to or a poor imitation of Sebald, whom he quotes extensively and admires deeply. The nature writing is shallow, and, while a few passages were genuinely moving and lovely, I mostly thought I'd ...more
May 23, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction-literary
This is quite an odd book, set near my old stomping grounds in Somerset, which is why I picked it up. It is oddly compulsive to read, probably because the "chapters" are so very short, though it is a longish book for a book, really, about not much, because it all is so hidden. I loved the nature observation, but I often wished for a deeper dive into language, or at least some 3-D characters to hang the tale on.
Liz Owen
Jun 11, 2019 rated it liked it
Feeling bemused. This was enjoyable and mostly well written ( but with some awful typos). It felt like non fiction, a strange mixture of an account of someone with mental health issues and a nature diary. And yet, it's a novel...but it really didn't seem like it!
Abi Orme
Dec 05, 2019 rated it really liked it
A lovely book. Touching, simple and real with beautiful descriptions of nature and some of the tougher realities of life.
May 13, 2019 rated it really liked it
A glimpse into someone's private places (gardens, woodland and own mind) well written and a very captivating read.
Gary Homewood
Jun 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
Nature diary and journal of a man on a secluded country estate, observing nature and obliquely alluding to/struggling with depression. Beautiful fragmentary observations with a darker subtext.
Nov 25, 2019 rated it really liked it
The way how this book has been written is so nice. It's a diary of an aging man. It's about solitude. And it's about breakdown.
Feb 17, 2020 rated it liked it
Beautifully and artistically written. The words seems to sing and dance off the page. However sometimes the pacing is a little off and it tends to drag.
Emma  Heyn
Apr 29, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2019-reading
For such a fantastic premise, the prose/content was dissapointingly lackluster. We get glimpses into his character, but ultimately the book skates around confronting, or even addressing the reasons behind the protagonist's depression, poor relationships, etc. We never get the oppertunity to engage with the main character and subsequently he becomes a bland canvas of anxiety that we are ultimately unable to relate to- despite a wealth of material that COULD have made him interesting.
rated it liked it
Jan 21, 2020
Daniel Yates
rated it liked it
Jun 11, 2019
Josh Rees
rated it really liked it
Jun 02, 2019
Matthew White
rated it really liked it
Apr 21, 2019
Menno van Winden
rated it it was amazing
Apr 21, 2019
rated it liked it
May 22, 2019
Asha Kodah
rated it it was amazing
Oct 05, 2019
rated it it was amazing
May 14, 2019
Dylan Reed
rated it it was amazing
Dec 08, 2019
« previous 1 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »

Readers also enjoyed

  • Les années
  • Vivian
  • Aug 9—Fog⁠
  • Limbo
  • Ducks, Newburyport
  • Homie
  • El viento que arrasa
  • The Other Name: Septology I-II
  • Die Kieferninseln
  • Los caídos
  • The Hatred of Poetry
  • La débil mental
  • The Stream of Life
  • Règne animal
  • Insurrecto
  • A Cidade Sitiada
  • Nobber
  • Lanny
See similar books…
No trivia or quizzes yet. Add some now »
“Wonderful the way seasonal change in the fall of light alters the look of familiar paths.” 0 likes
“Oliver Rackham writes, in his The History of the Countryside, a book of passionate opinion and the observations of a lifetime: ‘More intractable than destruction in pursuit of a purpose is the blight of tidiness which every year sweeps away something of beauty or meaning.” 0 likes
More quotes…