This book is about places like that. Places that transport. Portals.
I am […] trespassing in another world, a world that does not belong to me. It is the same realisation I had seeing the miniature reefs of ice high on the Cairngorm plateau: there are things happening here that have nothing to do with people.
Outlandish is a book about misplaced landscapes, parts of the world found in the wrong part of the world. I was hooked the moment I read the blurb – I’m always fascinated by writing that manages to make the familiar strange, capturing new and uncanny strands in places we thought we already knew. Outlandish does this so very well, wandering between Scotland, Poland, Spain and Hungary in search of environments that feel out of place: Arctic tundra in Scotland, primeval forest in Poland, desert in Spain and grassland steppes in Hungary. The places seem to exist as a glimpse of the past, deep time lingering into the present, echoing with a warning for the future.
The first section, on Scotland, is an incredible piece of writing. Hunt perfectly captures the mood of the Scottish landscape, moving in turn from beautiful to eerie to lonely, vast in scope and atmosphere. Respect for the mountains is balanced with a great love with them, and Hunt adds a reassuring touch of humour and lightness when needed.
The desert in Spain is the other section that has really stayed with me. Hunt conveys such a strong sense of the layers of time: different moments in human history stacked on top of each other, separate but brought close, as if all happening simultaneously, intrinsically linked. The contrast between the timelessness and emptiness of the desert landscape and the mentions of areas where movies where filmed, of Hunt ‘traipsing in the director’s footsteps’, is sharp and jarring – the incongruity of this perfectly highlights the selfish human uses of the landscape.
It would be impossible to write a book so full of love and curiosity for the land without mentioning the growing fear of climate change. Hunt’s concern for the future of the places – and for humanity – comes across clear and stark. It’s a valuable reminder that the world does not exist around humans – that the landscapes have existed before us and will continue to exist after us, and how human life is only damaging these places, not helping them flourish. The calm isolation of these places – coupled with Hunt’s quiet warnings about climate change – marks humanity as an intrusion on the landscape.
Outlandish is a powerful and fascinating wander through Europe, laced through with beautiful and vivid prose. I really enjoyed this and will definitely be keeping an eye out for Hunt’s other two books.
(Thanks to NetGalley and Nicholas Brealey for providing me with a copy in exchange for an honest review.)
Predominantly climbing/outdoors literature, mountaineering history and nature writing.