Nocturne

James Book reviews, Reviews

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A Journey in Search of Moonlight

by James Attlee | Hamish Hamilton

Lying in a dentist’s chair, staring up at a poster of the Earth seen from outer space, author James Attlee was struck by how man is: ‘increasingly cut off from the movements of the silent satellite that controls the tides, linked in the human mind for centuries with love, melancholy and madness’.

So it is that he sets off on a journey to explore this vanishing moonlight, discovering how it has inspired others – especially landscape painters – before him. His prose is poetic: ‘the harvest moon emerging from the sea, a monstrous, swollen apparition…’

At times melancholic, though this may be because he is continuously frustrated by unseasonal weather. In Kyoto for the Tsukimi moon-viewing festival there is cloud, on Vesuvius he is plagued by fog. In Arizona, as he prepares to receive the full blast of moonlight beamed down the Interstellar Light Collector (thought to cure anything from depression to cancer by its inventors), clouds again gather, and on a Thames tributary he suffers driving rain.

However, Attlee’s enthusiasm for his subject shines through where the moon does not, and the reader is wistfully whisked along in a series of gorgeous vignettes that will renew your regard for what Philip Larkin declares the ‘far-reaching singleness of that wide stare’.

First published: Compass magazine, Spring 2012
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