This is a very peculiar book. One I savored for a long while because it’s fascinating, both in concept and in storytelling. Did you know that there’s a glacier tucked away in Scotland? Or a desert in Spain? I was aware about the latter, and of course the existence of the Hungarian steppe is common knowledge, but the glacier stumped me. Same with the Białowieża, a primeval Polish forest.
Unlikely places and where to find them, indeed.
In Outlandish, acclaimed travel writer Nick Hunt takes us across landscapes that should not be there, wildernesses found in Europe yet seemingly belonging to far-off continents: a patch of Arctic tundra in Scotland; the continent’s largest surviving remnant of primeval forest in Poland and Belarus; Europe’s only true desert in Spain; and the fathomless grassland steppes of Hungary.
From snow-capped mountain range to dense green forest, desert ravines to threadbare, yellow open grassland, these anomalies transport us to faraway regions of the world. More like pockets of Africa, Asia, the Poles or North America, they make Europe seem larger, stranger and more filled with secrets.
Against the rapid climate breakdown of deserts, steppes and primeval jungles across the world, this book discovers the outlandish environments so much closer to home – along with their abundant wildlife: reindeer; bison; ibex; wolves and herds of wild horses. Blending sublime travel writing, nature writing and history – by way of Paleolithic cave art, reindeer nomads, desert wanderers, shamans, Slavic forest gods, European bison, Wild West fantasists, eco-activists, horseback archers, Big Grey Men and other unlikely spirits of place – these desolate and rich environments show us that the strange has always been near.
Nicholas Brealey US
Cover: Hm. It doesn’t intrigue me that much, but I guess it’s just a matter of personal tastes in this case.
- Outlandish is a recount of various trips Nick Hunt took across Europe. He went to visit a Scotland glacier, a desert in Spain, a timeless forest that sprawls across the border of Poland and Belarus, and a portion of the Hungarian steppe. Four different ecosystems, the ones you’d maybe associate with another latitude or another continent altogether.
- Hunt’s style is flawless. Outlandish is told in first person, and the story just flows without a hitch. You see, the issue I have with first person POV is that it reads stilted if the writer is not that experienced, an endless string of I, I, I, I – it grates. Hunt doesn’t fall into that trap; he’s skilled enough to weave tales a reader can get lost into, a quality I applaud. His writing is evocative, eerie in places, and it spans from local stories to legends to his daily routine. The people he meets come to life with every paragraph, just like the landscapes. This aspect alone is worth the admission ticket, at least in my opinion.
- Every trip is told with care and taught me something new, but my favorite is the Spain one. Used as backdrop for famous movies–Leone’s trilogy! Sorry, I’m a huge Eastwood fan–the Tabernas is maybe the place that impacts Hunt’s life the most, almost killing him in the process, and that experience reads as vivid as if we were there with him.
- There isn’t a single picture in sight. Not even one. I’m crushed, because with some photographic goodies here and there, Outlandish would have been perfect.
4 stars on GR.