by Jules Renard, illustrated by Pierre Bonnard, translated from the French by Douglas Parmée
The natural world in all its richness, glimpsed variously in the house, the barnyard, and the garden, in ponds and streams, and at large in the woods and the fields, including old friends like the dog, the cat, the cow, and the pig, along with more unusual and sometimes alarming characters such as the weasel, the dragonfly, snakes of several sorts, and even a whale, not to mention ants in their seeming infinitude and a single humble potato—all these and more are the subjects of what may well be the most deft and delightful book of literary miniatures ever written. In Jules Renard’s world, plants and animals not only feel but speak (one species, the swallow, appears to write Hebrew), and yet, for all the anthropomorphic wit and whimsy the author indulges in, they guard their mystery too. Sly, funny, and touching, Nature Stories, here beautifully rendered into English by Douglas Parmée and accompanied by the wonderful ink-brush images of Pierre Bonnard with which the book was originally published, is a literary classic of inexhaustible freshness.
The farmyard beasts, hunted game, insects and birds of the Nievre were world enough for him [Renard]. Sometimes their activities add up to a story, sometimes an extended observation; or they might just provide a joyful moment—for instance, when a kingfisher comes and perches on his fishing-rod ('I was swelling with pride at having been taken for a tree'). And on almost every page there are brilliant descriptions and comparisons.
— Julian Barnes, London Review of Books
Renard's way with the detail is unforgettable. Renard writes about spiders, about the moon, and the poetry he makes from the things his eyes tell him is joyful.
—Michael Silverblatt, Bookworm
Renard's people—and animals and plants, too—are not reflections of Renard. They are not metaphors for his moods. They are not steps in his argument. They are as close as he can come to describing being someone or something not Renard. Renard's truthfulness is the truthfulness of a scrupulous, disinterested witness. You trust him as you trust a Quaker.
—Naomi Bliven, The New Yorker
Directly, or indirectly, Renard is at the origin of contemporary literature.
There is no real equivalent for the French word esprit which is somewhere between and beyond humor and wit and which is essentially what these short commentaries on the bird and animal world display.