I heard of this book when it first came out last year, had my eye on it for a while but wasn’t sure I’d be interested enough in the topic of foxes for an entire books worth. Lately I’ve been really craving writing on animal life, and this ended up being the first book I picked up. It helps that it’s absolutely beautifully published, with cover design by Nathan Burton and illustrations within by Tim Oakenfull. I’m definitely the type of reader to judge a book by its cover, at least partly, and this book sold me immediately. But, it bears little of the share for my love of it.
Lucy Jones has written a very well balanced, engaging, and quite thought provoking book on foxes – both foxes in terms of the many ideas, characters and myths surrounding it, and foxes in the flesh. The book is divided into parts, firstly Jones goes into the history surrounding the especially literary depiction of the fox, the sneaky, manipulative animal to the more endearing heroes of more recent cultural characterisations of the fox. She moves on to some more classic nature writing, describing fox as a species and its nature, habitat, situation all over the world but Britain in particular – as this book is at its heart focused on Britain’s relationship with the animal. The last chunk of the book explores the quite complicated situation and the controversies surrounding the animal – the fox hunters, farmers, city folks, parents, animal rights activist, etc. – all of the many different sides to the question of whether foxes poses a problem or not, whether hunting should be legal or not, if there’s a need for culling, and so forth – the two strongest sides of this lies with pro-hunting people on the one hand, and animal rights activists on the other. Lucy Jones further explores people who sabotage fox hunts (to discover illegal hunting, and if so – put a stop to it), people who take care of foxes in different ways, people who work within the culling side of things, hunters, etc.
As I stated earlier, it’s quite a balanced rendering of the somewhat complicated relationship humans have with foxes (at least in Britain but surely in other places of the world as well). While it is clear Jones is against hunting to a certain extent, and also believes much of the “problem” of foxes lies with humans – she says as much in the epilogue outright – she does make a point to give all sides of the topic a voice, highlights the value in each concern and side to the story. She points out for example farmers side of things, or the value in protecting certain other species and wildlife from foxes – in particular birds.
I enjoyed all of these parts immensely. I never realised for example how very much the behaviours of the fox resembles, to me at least, a dog’s behaviour. Jones actually does make some comparisons to dogs in the book. Cats, too. There were a lot of things to do with the political side of things I knew little off, I hadn’t even considered the fact that people could get so aggressive in this debate – this is especially concerned the meeting between hunters and saboteurs. I said earlier too that I found the book quite thought provoking, and most of these things had less to do with foxes specifically but with grander questions like humans relationship with animal life and with nature. Jones raises a few questions towards the last part of the book, that concerns just this – the boundaries between man-made environments and wildlife, the clash between the two and the “over-stepping” of one into the other, the things humans have done to create the current situation with foxes and other animals – where the urban areas grow wider and branch further, thus changing the homes of these animals, also making our “territories” closer, making meetings more of an everyday thing.
I also really liked the parts of animal rights activists, both in terms of politics and opinions, ideas, but also in actual actions, in the sabotaging; what should be legal and not, where one crosses a line, where the rights lie, who decides these things, and oh so many things. Another thing to be enjoyed that comes not from the actual contents and facts – is Jones’ writing, the way she goes about telling you the story of foxes. While not exactly extraordinarily beautiful in prose, with a few exceptions perhaps, I found her writing to be so utterly engaging and passionate, it really made me want to read on and on forever. I think this aspect is so important in nonfiction, especially with controversial topics or where there is a controversy – get people thinking, seeing sides and all that is important – but it’s much more likely to really get to people when it’s written with such an engaging tone. I will say towards the last few pages the book or the contents started to feel a little thin – like she had run out of things to say based on the research she had done/she had available, it felt like the rounding up was perhaps a little over-drawn. It was only really the last few pages, hence why it’s only a slight dent on the book and not a reason against it in my book.
All in all, a well worth read I would recommend to anyone who likes foxes, nature writing in general, animal wildlife writing in particular; or perhaps are just as fascinated and mesmerised by Britain’s nature as I am.