four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
55-Nov-Dec-2011
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A-The Fragrance of GrassGuy de la Valdène has written on topics in nature, conservation, and hunting and fishing. The Fragrance of Grass examines our complex relationship with nature and a lifelong hunter's ambivalent relationship with the animals he respects deeply. De la Valdène's previous books include Making Game: An Essay on Woodcock (1990), For a Handful of Feathers (1995), and a novel, Red Stag (2003).

The Topic: "I have hunted at least one hour a day for three months a year, ever since I was eight years old. That translates into more than 5,000 hours in the field, a lifetime walk that, under different circumstances, might have taken me from Paris to Istanbul and back," Guy de la Valdène writes in the opening of The Fragrance of Grass. "I like to walk, and I know guns." Born into privilege toward the end of World War II and raised in France and America, La Valdène learned early the innumerable joys of the hunting life. Seven decades on, he considers what a lifetime of hunting--and killing--has amounted to. Vignettes set in France, Montana, Canada, and Florida, where La Valdène lives on a farm outside Tallahassee, offer keen insight into the mind of a hunter, conservationist, and natural historian who knows birds, dogs, people, wine, and food.
Lyons. 240 pages. $24.95. ISBN: 9780762764143

Creative Loafing 4.5 of 5 Stars
"When the dust clears and historians start ranking the Great Florida Writers, we might find that Valdène is a stealth candidate on the list. ... His writing is so good that every few pages, you need to close the book and just marvel at where he's taken you with his elegant writing." William McKeen

ForeWord 4 of 5 Stars
"The Fragrance of Grass is a rare and fascinating foray into a lifestyle that has increasingly fallen out of political fashion with the influence of green living and animal rights. ... Any true sportsman will find a knowledgeable and friendly compatriot in this lyrical homage to the hunting life." Monica Carter

Rain Taxi 4 of 5 Stars
"Though La Valdène has relished from youth the unique pleasures of shooting to kill, he enters his seventh decade with a feeling of bittersweet ambivalence, a sense of the wrongs of hunting which dogs him on his 800-acre Florida farm. It is this ambivalence that animates The Fragrance of Grass, and rescues its author's memories from the chronicle of killings they threaten to become." Andrew Cleary

Bodio's Querencia 4 of 5 Stars
"[The Fragrance of Grass] is an unusual combination of almost Proustian (but rural) memoir and sporting reminiscence, perhaps with echoes of Turgenev's ‘notebooks' as well, haunted by time in a not-unpleasant if sometimes melancholy way. It is an account of growing up in France and America, with many dogs, a lot of food (not indulged in a ‘piggy' way but as a part of life), and enough shooting both humble and elevated to allow it to be reviewed in hook and bullet venues though it quite transcends that category." Stephen Bodio

Critical Summary

An accomplished outdoorsman, gourmand, and filmmaker, Guy de la Valdène cultivated an interest in writing through lifelong friends Jim Harrison (the title of La Valdène's book is taken from a line in a Harrison poem) and Tom McGuane, with whom La Valdène shares a passion for hunting and fishing. Although the writing reflects an intimate knowledge of the great outdoor writers and memoirists of the last two centuries--Ivan Turgenev is the name most often associated with this sort of book--the voice is all La Valdène's. The author's unique perspective and his obsessive eye for the just-so (and occasionally irreverent) detail and the bon mot make The Fragrance of Grass an outstanding contribution to those in outdoors circles--and to those of us who prefer to sit and read about the great outdoors on the couch.