I have to admit to having had a soft spot for naturalist and TV presenter Chris Packham, ever since watching the popular children’s wildlife series The Really Wild Show (1986-1995) as a child. More recently I have enjoyed seeing him present the BBC’s annual nature shows Springwatch and Autumnwatch. So as soon as I found out he had written a memoir, Fingers in the Sparkle Jar, I had to read it! Plus how good is that title?!
In this memoir, we discover that young Chris was an introverted boy, who was only truly happy when out having feral adventures in fields, rivers, ponds and woods, or hidden in his bedroom; bursting with fox skulls, birds’ eggs and sweaty jam jars of live creatures. But when Chris stole a young kestrel from its nest, he embarked on a friendship that taught him what it meant to love, and which would have a profound affect on him. In this rich, emotional and exposing memoir, Chris brings vividly to life his childhood in suburban 1970s England, with his ever pervading search for freedom, meaning and acceptance in a world that didn’t understand him.
From his TV persona, I would never have guessed the difficulties Chris has had to face in his life. Although no specific condition is mentioned in this memoir, as an adult, he was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, which would account for the obsessive behaviour that others found so hard to understand. Chris candidly shares moments of hurt, pain, embarrassment and confusion he experienced due to this misunderstanding, balanced with the love, joy, surprise and pleasure he found in the natural world. This made for an emotional rollercoaster ride of a read for me, which I had to take my time over but it was well worth it.
Recently, I read a description that said this memoir will be unlike any you’ve ever read, with which I have to wholeheartedly agree! Chris cleverly subverts our expectations of the memoir genre by writing several events involving himself in the third person, for example through the eyes of his teacher and neighbours. Also, we flick around in time, with the Summer with his kestrel playing a central role, and each sub-book ends with a discussion looking back on his childhood with his therapist; shortly after he almost committed suicide. Not only did this make for a refreshing change in style, I think it also helped to convey Chris’ confusion and frustrations, as well as giving us a view of him from others’ perspective.
Overall, I thought Fingers in the Sparkle Jar was a beautifully wrought, powerful and candid recount of a difficult childhood for Chris Packham. A side to this successful, much loved naturalist and TV personality I never knew about before. Great read.
Thank you to the publishers for providing a copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for my honest opinion.
Have you read this? Are you a fan of Chris Packham?