21 November 2017
Author: Chirs Packham
Publisher: Ebury Press
ISBN number: 978-1785033506
Chris Packham has been an amiable TV presenter and passionate conservation campaigner for more than three decades, and it’s easy to fall into the trap of feeling you know him well. So his coming-of-age memoir Fingers in the Sparkle Jar has raised many eyebrows – particularly its many vivid and brutal revelations from Packham’s adolescence.
From ‘fishing’ for frogspawn and eating it with a spoon; beating then drowning a fox trapped in one of Packham’s snares; to shooting sparrows with an air rifle through a dining room window… it’s startling stuff; a world away from Springwatch. Packham offers fascinating insights into the obsessive desires of a young outsider who was determined to get ever closer to the animal world, whatever the means.
The book flits dreamily between lengthy teenage tales told in first-person prose, and a third-person account of a middle-aged, despondent Packham in conversation with his therapist. It’s a daring format that forces the reader to join the dots, just as Packham is trying to do during the therapy sessions. Some of the teenage memories would have benefitted from a more ruthless edit, and the poetic descriptions often left me puzzled and, just occasionally, infuriated. But Packham has taken an uncompromising approach that pushes the boundaries of memoir, and challenges assumptions about why many of us crave interaction with nature. It’s a brave and worthwhile book that I would recommend. Just don’t go eating any frogspawn. Danny Carden