The philosopher Donna Haraway, whom Jon Day quotes several times in his beautiful book about unbeautiful birds, presents history as a series of existential wounds. We are cut off from one another, and from our homes, Haraway says, by the alienating effects of technology and capitalism. Haraway’s belief is that, as Day parses it (in rather more readable prose than the original), “life… is a communal endeavour: we are not islands, but archipelagos”.
This sense that we as a species have been collectively uprooted might explain why the nature memoir as vehicle for self-revelation has become such a staple of our literary landscape. The new nature writing, which is at its best in the work of Helen Macdonald, Richard Mabey and Kathleen Jamie, often seeks to present a return to nature as a curative to the psychological and existential ills of modernity.
Day’s book is ostensibly about his time as a novice pigeon racer, his initiation into the strange cult of the fancier, with its obscure rites and nomenclature, its frantic races and sometimes cruel manipulations of the pigeons’ lives. But, like so many books in this genre, its surface subject hides a host of subterranean obsessions. As Day himself suggests at the end, Homing is an anti-travel book, a book about the places we call home, and how our ideas of home have changed over the centuries. It’s also about masculinity and fatherhood, about love and solitude, about why we are drawn to creatures with whom we are unable to communicate, whose lives are lived in a different medium to our own.
Homing is stru …