A Single Swallow | Horatio Clare

A Single Swallow book cover

I’ve got a hell of a lot of unread non-fiction books languishing on my shelves and lest they find themselves destined for the charity shop, I need to get stuck into them. I started with A Single Swallow, which is a mishmash of nature writing, travel writing, and history, with a touch of autobiography along the way.

Horatio Clare documents his travels as he follows the annual migration of swallows from South Africa to Wales. He journeys across Africa and up into Europe, finding himself making plenty of friends and losing an awful lot of money – and a touch of sanity – along the way.

Clare writes about his adventure so beautifully that in many places it feels as though you’re reading a novel rather than a factual account of his travels. His descriptions of the movements of swallows and their behaviours are gorgeously vivid – I just found myself wishing for more of them.

After the first two chapters, Clare’s journey focuses more on the people he meets – a wonderfully varied and colourful cast of real-life characters – and the atmospheres of the countries he visits rather than the swallows themselves. However, I assume that was his intention all along. At its core, the book is really about the author exploring the world and finding himself – or perhaps losing himself – as he leaves his comfortable London life behind and lives on the road.

Now, I did find myself getting a little distracted here and there along the way. It wasn’t exactly a book that I had to fight with myself to put down. However, I think that’s a problem with me rather than a problem with the book. It’s probably no surprise that I prefer to read fictional stories over factual ones. Despite Clare’s vibrant and engaging writing style, I did zone out during some of the longer, drier passages which discussed the histories of the countries he passed through.

Personally, I just wanted the action. I wanted to know about the friends he made, the dodgy situations he managed to wriggle his way out of, and the moments he was scammed by clever fraudsters. And let’s not forget, the real stars of this book – the swallows. It genuinely made me appreciate these humble birds; they go on quite a trip across the equator to get their rocks off and raise their kids. Then they turn around and fly all the way back again, battling exhaustion, predators, and human unkindness along the way. It’s exhausting just thinking about it.

Overall, this a brilliant read for nature buffs, travel junkies, or bird enthusiasts. However, considering I’m not really any of those things and still really enjoyed it, I suppose I should simply recommend it to anyone who likes a good adventure story.

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2 thoughts on “A Single Swallow | Horatio Clare

    1. Definitely! It would be interesting to see how the author’s experiences in South Africa as a tourist differ from yours as a settler. It is a great read, but I must admit I’m excited to get stuck into a nice novel again!

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