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Fingers in the Sparkle Jar: A Memoir

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I did hear this book wasn’t an ordinary, chronological memoir, but even then I wasn’t prepared for the writing style in this. I bought this book as soon as it was published and he signed it for me when I went to see his ‘tadpoles’ talk last year.

Chris Packham's memoir Fingers in the Sparkle Jar is a brutal, beautiful book that subverts the memoir genre through third person accounts of events involving him. This moving memoir is written with an intensity that is so very different to anything that I have read before. When he talks about how "beneath the roots of long-gone oaks pike lay log-like in their frozen palaces", you can tell he's part of a noble, poetic tradition of nature writing. Every minute was magical, every single thing it did was fascinating and everything it didn't do was equally wondrous, and to be sat there, with a Kestrel, a real live Kestrel, my own real live Kestrel on my wrist! I ended up skimming entire sections, as it was often just more details about the same experiences with the same animals.Chris Packham, well-known TV presenter and wildlife expert, takes us back to his childhood in 1960s Southampton, and we meet a curious child who doesn't quite fit in to the societal norm. Every minute was magical, every single thing it did was fascinating and everything it didn’t do was equally wondrous, and to be sat there, with a Kestrel, a real live Kestrel, my own real live Kestrel on my wrist! An introverted, unusual young boy, isolated by his obsessions and a loner at school, Chris Packham only felt at ease in the fields and woods around his suburban home. I'd expected something like the chatty style of Packham's presenting, informative and straightforward, but no - this is non-chronological, impressionistic, almost fractured in places.

I knew quite a lot about Chris anyway but you just have to read this in his own sweet and unique words because it’s truly written so incredibly beautifully. Parts of the book, especially those that deal with a suicide attempt, are upsetting and difficult to read. He is a confirmed outsider - almost overwhelmed - but determined to do things his way, on his terms. The descriptions of nature, wildlife and the countryside brims with his passion for his favoured subjects.Indeed, the few sections I actually like are those where a few words have made an everyday encounter magical – as they always were through my prying young eyes. Interestingly, some chapters revisit the same events through different perspectives; we see it through the eyes of an outsider and then get Chris' version of events. Despite this, I am incredibly glad that Chris Packham found such an incredible love in wildlife that is still going. What I especially enjoyed about this memoir was the feel of a kid growing up in the sixties and seventies. Many are written in the first person and describe his life when he was around 7 or 8 and again when he was in his mid teens.

Fingers in the Sparkle Jar: A Memoir is well written and highly original: non-linear, multiple points of view, and rooted in Chris's Asperger's Syndrome condition. Chris describes with such wonder and immaculate detail how rapturous and spectacular it feels to discover the natural world. Knowing that the camera on my phone wasn’t working I still got my other half to pretend to take a picture of Chris and me, so I could get right up close to him!It’s beautifully written and the messages and story stayed with me long after I turned the last page.

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