Fox and I by Catherine Raven
Catherine Raven lives on her own in a tiny hand-built house, on acres of land off a dirt track that has never been named, far from towns and civilisation. She likes it that way – the remoteness of her bush block providing respite from the over-stimulating world of science and academia and human beings. Because here’s the thing: Raven is no ordinary recluse: she has a PhD in biology and regularly (somewhat reluctantly) leaves her refuge to teach graduate students at universities.
Raven is a kindred spirit with wild things. Her science training gives her the knowledge of why events occur, but her curiosity opens her up to all the surprising things science can’t explain. Like Fox. Why does Fox, a wild, ‘unboxed’ animal (as opposed to ‘boxed’ animals, such as pets) start turning up at her house every single afternoon at 4.15pm? 4.15 on the dot, every afternoon. She sits and studies him, as he sits and studies her. Then, one day, she starts reading out loud to him from The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Fox stays and listens. Over multiple afternoons, Raven and Fox build a connection. She reads him Moby Dick. Occasionally Dr Seuss. She takes Fox (and us) on a surprising literary journey, mixed in with natural history, animal behaviour, photosynthesis, bushfires, and everything else that catches her eye. This isn’t an earnest book. It’s funny and witty and engaging and insightful and whimsical – in fact, there are so many charming passages that I wanted to refer back to later, that my copy looks appropriately dog-eared (for a book about a fox).
Raven braids the story of Fox and I like strands of ribbons: Fox is tied up with The Little Prince, while Moby Dick twirls in amongst it. Biology is plaited throughout, together with insights into human nature (as told from the perspective of a true outsider). All of it woven together to make a truly beautiful yarn.