Ness: a haunting journey into landscape

To ‘review’ Ness for other readers feels almost counter-intuitive to the unnerving beauty of Macfarlane and Donwood’s creation: a piece of art that is enchanting, alluring and deeply captivating; a personal and intimate experience between writer, artist and reader.

Inspired by the bleak and ghostly shingle spit of Orford Ness, off the Suffolk coast, Ness focuses on mysterious figures within ‘The Green Chapel’, where ‘The Armourer’ is leading a ritual with terrible intent.  

But traversing land, sea and time, five forces are heading towards the shingle spit, as land itself comes to life to reclaim the world from devious forces of destruction.

The latest collaboration between Robert Macfarlane and Stanley Donwood, Ness is a dark and timeless tale for our age, with narrative, prose and images as enchanting, captivating and alluring as the tale it so masterfully weaves.

Macfarlane’s work is often prose-like in its beauty and form and with Ness, it feels that he has finally unleashed a different side to his writing and indeed himself, as he translates his deep and intimate knowledge of the natural world into a creative vision that excites and terrifies in equal measure.

Whilst his words are pure poetry, it is Donwood’s sinister images that empower this body of work with the ability to truly sing.  Dark, gloom, foreboding: Macfarlane’s words are exacerbated menacingly by Donwood’s intricate and haunting drawings.

Ness is an atmospheric allegory for our times: the Anthropocene so vividly permeating mass consciousness as we face forward to the possibilities of our devastating impact on life.  This theme is captured intricately with Donwood’s hagstone images throughout the book; flints with holes worn through that permit the holder (so speaks folklore) to see into the past or the future. 

Given its obvious parallels with the dangerous ecological times we are in, it makes for uncomfortable reading in parts; an eerie fear seeping into the pores of the reader.  Ness is like nothing I’ve ever read, and it is perhaps that fact, that makes it an essential read not just for ‘nature readers’, but for anyone concerned with the Anthropocene we find ourselves in.

Vivid, haunting, engaging and deeply intricate: Ness is a modern-day folk tale brought to life with thoughtful and lovingly-crafted prose and pictures, that has clawed itself into the heart and consciousness of this dedicated reader.

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