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  • Writer's pictureNZ Booklovers

The Golden Mole and Other Living Treasure by Katherine Rundell

The first thing you notice about The Golden Mole by Katherine Rundell is how beautiful the book is. The pages are gilt-edged; the cover glows. It is heavy in your hands. The illustrations are gorgeous, and the layout and font are elegant.

Open the book and the adage “Don’t judge a book by its cover” is promptly debunked: the words are as beautiful as their packaging.

Katherine Rundell, already an award-winning children’s author and a literary biographer, has penned a gorgeous tribute to twenty-two of the world’s animal species, and a non-fiction elegy to the fact that the survival of each is, if not already endangered, then at least threatened by the most dangerous animals on the planet – humans.

It’s at once fascinating and erudite, desperately sad, and intensely beautiful. It made me wild with anger and had me swooning with delight.

The book is meticulously researched, packed with interesting scientific facts (“If we were to make a vast web out of spiders’ silk as thick as a biro, it would halt a 747 in mid-air”), but the musicality of the language is what struck me. This is a David-Attenborough-meets-Shakespeare-meets-Mozart symphony. Hard-hitting messages about how humans are annihilating the earth’s treasures are couched in the most tender and poetic phrases, and it is this juxtaposition that makes them so profound:

"The earth is so glorious and so unlikely: the giraffe, stranger than the griffin, taller than a great high house, offers us the incomparable gift of being proof of it."

"I have seen many things that I've loved, but I don't think I'll live to see anything as fine as a raft of lemurs, sailing across the sea towards what looked, until the arrival of humans, like safety."

“Wolves are like the fairy tales they prowl through; wild, and not on anybody’s side.”

Of swimming near a herd of seals: “To be in ice-cold water, under steady skies with their grey steady beauty: it felt like being churched.”

At the end, the author tackles one final species: the human. She tells a story based on the Greek Sybelline Oracles, emphasising the risk we run (and have in fact created) of losing treasures before we have even seen them. She implores:

“…this book has been a wooing. It has been an asking for your attention, and for your wonder. Because so much can still be saved. Fear and fury are galvanic, but they will not suffice alone: our competent and attentive love will have to be what fuels us. For what is the finest treasure? Life.”

This is a must-read for lovers of nature, words, animals, and the earth.

Reviewer: Patricia Bell

Faber & Faber

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