My book review of 'Once Upon a Raven's Nest' by Catrina Davies

by Catrina Davies
Once Upon a Raven's Nest
by Catrina Davies

The author has written two earlier memoirs, which I loved. One was about her coping with a bereavement by driving a dilapidated camper van around Europe. The other was 'Homesick', about making a home in a shed in Cornwall after struggling to fund any other accommodation.

This is something entirely different.

Catrina Davies came to know Hector Ralph Collard in the last years of his life. Born in 1955 to a rural, working class family in Somerset, he was someone we'd understand as a true countryman, spending his life on the land, hunting, working and appreciating the natural world. He lived life to the full and was a risk taker, ultimately paralysed by the last in a series of accidents. Dependent on the tender care of friends and family, he was frustrated by his immobility but was still watching, noticing and recording his local environment.

Catrina chose to write the story of his life, taking his voice, creating his 'autobiography', naming him Thomas. She has woven together what she knows of Hector's story with that of her imagined character, presenting a deep love of nature, landscape, rural life and machinery. This book is the result and it's quite extraordinary.

I confess I find the blurring of fact and fiction frustrating at the best of times, but this is a creative and brave approach to telling a powerful story of one man. And there were details about Thomas's life that I found breathtaking. His work was hard, but his resilience and determination astonishing. 

Date of this review: March 2023
Book publication date: 13th April 2023