... an object of thrilling beauty ... The reader is invited to work out if there is a subtext, and to interpret it how they may. Consequently, As Kingfishers Catch Fire is both a joyful and a wondrous book, one that successfully captures the otherness of birds, while celebrating our yearning to transcend our lot, our yearning to touch the unknowable.
It is a sprightly book. Preston gives us not just the old favourites — Shelley’s To a Skylark, John Clare’s Nightingale... but also the hatchling nature writers: Helen Macdonald’s memoir H is for Hawk, Max Porter’s novella Grief Is the Thing With Feathers ... Preston captures his birds beautifully ... Several times seeing a bird is like a dream... This becomes slightly maddening. The most vivid nature writers see something rare and transformative and make it real for those who weren’t there. Preston’s birds are diminished by wishy-washy vagueness ... It’s a shame because there is so much here to set the heart soaring. Often it is the simplest descriptions that hold your imagination.
... a sumptuously illustrated, more or less coffee-table book about birds that is also—sometimes intentionally, more often accidentally—about the limitations of language and our stubborn fantasy of transcending them. It’s an odd production ... Crucially, Mr. Preston focuses not on birds in general but on a small number of species—21, to be exact ... In the wrong hands, this approach might have yielded 21 hodgepodges, but Mr. Preston uses it so deftly that each chapter is like the seductive arrangement of some clever Papuan bowerbird ... The book also boasts, not surprisingly, some very fine writing. Mr. Preston holds up his end with prose that is always meticulous and often a pleasure ... Not all Mr. Preston’s choices hit the mark, though. His taste in poetry is particularly erratic ... Cloying and grandiose though it sometimes is, As Kingfishers Catch Fire has the saving grace of warmth, intimacy and passion—it’s manifestly a labor of love.