From the opening anecdotes comparing the veins on a stranger’s hands to earthworms, it’s clear that Solnit intends to dig under the topsoil and put the notion of ‘Irishness’ under the microscope. That it is so enjoyable to read is due to the beauty of her descriptive prose and her knack for breathing life into characters and anecdotes with a tenderness that stops them from being simply furniture around her own experiences. The frequency of her encounters with the ‘giantess’ felt believable, even though the chances of them continuing to bump into one another in remote parts of the West Coast aren’t particularly high!
However, the appeal of this book lies not in its tender anecdotes or descriptions, but in the insights Solnit makes as she travels through our history and culture. Her examination of our traditions around death and our oral tradition were absolutely fascinating – but it was her explanation of “But you can’t ever leave home either; it takes root inside you and the very idea of self as an entity bounded by the borders of the skin is a fiction disguising the vast geographies contained under the skin that will never let you go” that made me buy a copy of this book as a gift for my father.