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WANDERLAND: A Search for Magic in the Landscape by Jini Reddy book review

  • Written by  Olivia Edward
  • Published in Books
WANDERLAND: A Search for Magic in the Landscape by Jini Reddy book review
26 Aug
2020
by Jini Reddy • Bloomsbury • £11.89 (hardback)

‘I want to connect with the spirit of the land. I want to feel heard, cared for, led. I want signs, synchronicity, the whole deal!’ writes Reddy. Determined to wring some otherworldly magic out of the grass and rocks and rain of Britain, she searches for ‘lost’ springs in Hastings; visits a labyrinth in Cornwall; converses with modern-day pagan goddesses and the descendants of witches; and is led around the outskirts of Glastonbury by a man who believes he can see the zodiac signs on the town’s surrounds – the Aries ram being traced out by a constellation of kebab shops and eponymously named pubs. It’s not until she reaches David Nash’s Ash Grove art work – 21 ash trees meticulously trained over 40 years to look as though they’re engaged in a fluid circular dance – that she finally feels the presence of a genius loci and is momentarily left in a state of awe. 

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It’s a reminder that travel is often travail, and that moments of sought ecstasy can be brief, fleeting. Reddy is candid about her own experiences; how she can feel anxious and self-conscious walking solo in the landscape, particularly because of her Indian heritage. She’s wary of entering pubs for fear of white tribalism and she notices rural folk stare at her just a moment longer than they need to – not unwholesomely she notes, it leaves her feeling like a painting, but do you always want to feel like a painting? 

Her self-claimed outlier status brings benefits to the reader, calling into question the cultural hegemony that hands down the St George and the Dragon myth and other Christian stories as if they are items of great value, not potentially unsettling tales of patriarchy and cultural repression. ‘What happened to the indigenous people in far off lands happened here too,’ she writes after a visit to Lindisfarne. You share her relief when she finds reprieve lying on a windswept Northumberland beach, finally enjoying her own Smultronstället or ‘secret place of the wild strawberries’, a Swedish word denoting a place of comfort and healing that you can call home. 

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