It’s not often “The Guardian Weekly” runs a colour reproduction top to bottom, on its Books Page. But this is a Bengal tiger in a glowering, golden rage, and it is a tribute to Graeme Gibson’s new book, “The Bedside Book of Beasts”. Heading the page is the headline: Animal Rights, human wrongs.
Gibson is the Canadian writer, married to Margaret Atwood, who has already written “The Bedside Book of Birds”. In his new book he has a rich collection of essays and illustrations from all kinds of sources, Darwin to Audubon. The book is, however, no “cosy compilation, but instead, red in tooth and claw”. It is also a warning as to what may happen when our species loses its temporary hold and the world is abandoned once more to the wild.
The section titles hint at this: Echoes of a Working Eden; Death’s Golden Eye; Mighty and Terrible. There are wonderful illustrations, as well as thoughtful essays by Gibson himself. When man learned to kill by remote control, he upset the ecosystem. Freud writes: “A wild animal is cruel but to be merciless is the privilege of civilised humans”. Gibson begs us to reconnect with the animal inside us .
He is a past president of PEN Canada and winner of prizes in writing. He has been a council member of World Wildlife Fund Canada and is chairman of the Pelee Island Bird Observatory. This is a wonderful book.
Review by Anne McDougall