Katherine May has been having a hard time of it. She feels exhausted, cannot concentrate on reading and is finding it hard to remember what used to bring her joy. Recognise these feelings? It’s burn-out, largely caused by the constant need to be aware during lockdowns which meant our fight or flight responses went all over the place and after much reflection Katherine May thinks she might have the answer. It’s enchantment, in the sense of awe and wonder, a re-engagement with the natural world and a recollection of those things we, as individuals, once held special.
The author came to prominence with her 2020 best-seller “Wintering: The Power Of Rest And Retreat In Difficult Times” which, like this book, is of the non-fiction genre now described as “hybrid memoir”. I haven’t read that but I certainly felt I was in need of a little enchantment and was intrigued when I first heard about this book. I think it might have thought it was going to be more along the self-help lines than it is, we get the author’s responses to “enchantment”, she tends to steer clear on advising us on how we can incorporate it into our lives.
It does seem reading this that the author was actually pretty well-centred and understood the magic of the natural world, it was just through lockdown she lost her way a bit. It wasn’t, for example, possible for her to engage with her group of female sea swimmers, missing both the social aspects and the myriad of positive boosts that sea swimming brings to the initiated. The author takes a very elemental approach looking at Earth (take off your shoes- I did this quite a bit during lockdown as a way of centring myself amidst the madness of the world), Water, Fire and Air, with a nod to Aether in the Epilogue. She provides interesting perspectives and I do get where she is coming from but I think I needed a bit more support from her burnt-out self to pull it all together for my burnt-out self. I also realised when reading this that I’m not that particularly burnt-out anymore but I think this book would have had great power coming out of lockdown although I do acknowledge that it took so long to get any real sense of normality back that this free approach to living and the environment was just not possible then.
What we need to do is commit “to a lifetime of engagement: to noticing the world around you, t0 actively looking for small distillations of beauty, to making time to contemplate and reflect.” Spending time sharing how the author achieves this was very involving and she is very strong at crystalizing the special moments in some captivating writing but perhaps for me, personally, the sense of transformation and inspiration I was hoping for was not quite there.
Enchantment was published in 2023 by Faber and Faber.