From action adventures that see characters battle elemental forces of nature, to eco-themed dystopian novels, to comfort reads set in the countryside, the natural world looms large in many world-class novels. Think the menace of the moors in Wuthering Heights. The omnipresent influence of the river in The Mill on the Floss. The entwining of environment and character in Thomas Hardy’s novels. The tropical forests and encroaching mountains of Wide Sargasso Sea.
For historic fiction with added environmental atmosphere, Eowyn Ivey’s The Snow Child comes hugely recommended. Set in the Alaskan wilderness in the 1920s, it’s suffused in the otherworldliness of the Russian fairy tale that inspired it and sees a childless couple struggling with grief for their lost baby when a sparkle of soulful magic arrives with the first snowfall of winter. Or how about Elizabeth Gilbert’s The Signature of All Things? Set in the nineteenth-century, it follows the extraordinary journeys of a female botanist, taking in London, Peru and Tahiti along the way. Another historic gem that exudes the splendour of the natural world is Eva Ibbotson’s Journey to the River Sea. A classic of children’s literature, this Amazon-set adventure has the power to excite and charm readers of all ages - guaranteed.
If real-life stories are more your bag, try Beryl Bainbridge’s The Birthday Boys, an involving fictional account of Scott’s attempt to reach the South Pole. Ecologically-minded literary fiction fans would do well to try Maja Lunde’s The History of Bees, or Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake. Then there’s the epic ride of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, an emotional father-and-son-story set in ravaged post-apocalyptic America.
Among my personal favourites are Nick Lake’s In Darkness, an enthralling novel that slips between the aftermath of the earthquake that devastated Haiti in 2010 and the 18th-century revolution spearheaded by Toussaint l’Ouverture, a visionary slave turned leader. A 2020 treat I can’t stop recommending is Sharks in the Time of Saviours. This majestically written family saga is infused with Hawaiian mythology, the power of the sea, and a sense of shifting landscape as the sugar cane industry declines.
If you fancy dipping into the natural world for a few moments at a time, try A Nature Poem for Every Day of the Year and its companion, A Nature Poem for Every Night of the Year. Beautifully curated (and presented), both collections include evocative nature-themed poems by esteemed heavyweights like Dickinson, Betjeman, Tennyson and Wordsworth alongside lesser-known writers.
All manner of nature and landscape await in the collection that follows - arctic tundra, humid jungles, strawberry-scented meadows, and much more besides. Read on to explore them all.