Wanderland by Jini Reddy reviewed

Wanderland Book Cover Wanderland
Jini Reddy
Bloomsbury Publishing Plc (UK & ANZ) Bloomsbury Wildlife
June 30, 2020

Alone on a remote mountaintop one dark night, a woman hears a mysterious voice.

Propelled by the memory and after years of dreaming about it, Jini Reddy dares to delve into the 'wanderlands' of Britain, heading off in search of the magical in the landscape.

A London journalist with multicultural roots and a perennial outsider, she determinedly sets off on this unorthodox path. Serendipity and her inner compass guide her around the country in pursuit of the Other and a connection to Britain's captivating natural world. Where might this lead? And if you know what it is to be Othered yourself, how might this colour your experiences? And what if, in invoking the spirit of the land, 'it' decides to make its presence felt?

Whether following a 'cult' map to a hidden well that refuses to reveal itself, attempting to persuade a labyrinth to spill its secrets, embarking on a coast-to-coast pilgrimage or searching for a mystical land temple, Jini depicts a whimsical, natural Britain. Along the way, she tracks down ephemeral wild art, encounters women who worship The Goddess, falls deeper in love with her birth land and struggles – but mostly fails – to get to grips with its lore. Throughout, she rejoices in the wildness we cannot see and celebrates the natural beauty we can, while offering glimpses of her Canadian childhood and her Indian parents' struggles in apartheid-era South Africa.

Wanderland is a book in which the heart leads, all things are possible and the Other, both wild and human, comes in from the cold. It is a paean to the joy of roaming, both figuratively and imaginatively, and to the joy of finding your place in the world.

Jini Reddy wants to discover or commune with the wild. She introduces Wanderland with some of her past experiences and her ideas for the future. An important aspect of this for her is being Other. She was born in the UK of Indian parents who had moved from South Africa because of apartheid. She then spent her childhood in Canada before returning to the UK. Other is something that resonates with her but can she find places to be Other and delve more into the magical and mystical? This book follows her quest to a number of places. Some are quite obvious locations such as Glastonbury and Lindisfarne. Some were – to me – unknown and possibly more interesting.

Personally I found the story of her early life engaging. The writing is good and there is a lightness of touch to her story telling. Her time in Canada was retold with warmth and affection. I looked forward to reading the rest of the book.

For those with an inclination to this subject some of the themes that run through Wanderland will not be surprising. Labyrinths is one of them and initially she visits one on the coast in Cornwall. I enjoyed her telling of this experience and continued to warm to the book. Cornwall appears again in another chapter and this one was a favourite of mine. She walk St Michael’s Way which crosses from the north coast to the south to arrive at St Michael’s Mount. I was aware of this route however I didn’t realise it was part of the Camino. It’s certainly gone on to the to do list!

While the theme of looking for the magical continues throughout the book the locations are varied. Her time in Iona was something I really enjoyed however Glastonbury maybe worked less well for her and I was unsurprised I guess. Some of her experiences in Wales fell short of what she had hoped for too. The experiences she had that appealed to me worked well and powerfully so at times. The quest for the secret spring was one I loved. Trees, ruins and legends all feature in this book and in the author’s desire to be able to gain something from them.

I was drawn to Wanderland initially based on the idea that it might appeal to those who liked Robert Macfarlane’s work (I certainly do!). For me it isn’t really quite like that but there are echoes here. This is a quest for something. However to me, while apparently a quest in places, it seemed like an inner quest too. Jini was seeking the shaman, the mystic, the earth mother and the like within herself as well as meeting Others. Maybe she was also looking for a purpose after some life events that were somewhat mixed. This book is worthwhile for what she finds and what she doesn’t. However I found it most fascinating for the things and people who find her – synchronicity, happenstance or whatever; some of these encounters were the best parts of the book for me.

This is an intensely personal narrative and I’m sure some will find it not to their taste. I thoroughly enjoyed the read and I’d like to think I would visit some of the places myself in time. If you see themes and ideas in this that appeal to you I would honestly say give it a try. This is a warm, interesting and accessible read. I will certainly be interested in any further books by Jini Reddy. 4.5/5

Note – I received an advance digital copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair review