Book review – Chantemesle by Robin Fedden

Chantemesle by Robin FeddenI picked up this slender volume in a charity shop and discovered within it all the riches of a sun-dazed, free-roaming childhood. It’s a perfect read for summer, particularly if you’re at all nostalgic for the days when holidays seemed to last forever and the greatest joy was heading out into the woods or fields with no plan to be home before teatime.

In Chantemesle: A Normandy Childhood, Fedden has captured the wonder and beauty of his years as a boy, exploring the land and river close to his parents’ Normandy house, where “adders basked in the sun”, “owls and redstarts nested”, and “anemones and orchids flourished on the chalk soil.” A keen passion for and knowledge of the area’s flora and fauna are shored up by Fedden’s ability to bring to the surface the innocence and curiosity of his young self.

The freedom of this time is deliciously evocative, as Fedden traverses land and river alike, finding both peace and adventure “In the sinulous channels that lead from one island to another,” and magic in the dense forest, where a mysterious castle appears and disappears according to the light, and a well throws back reflections of Fedden that he barely recognises as his own.

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