Chris Packham’s inventive and unique memoir is much more than a story about a young boy and his kestrel; it’s about the challenges that he faced in a time when people did not understand him. The book touches beautifully on a number of tough topics including mental illness, attempted suicide, family breakdowns and desperation.
These sensitive issues are handled with exquisite care, as Packham navigates through his life, sharing his passion for nature and how this kept him going through even the darkest of times.
Although the memoir is primarily about Packham’s relationship with a kestrel he raised as a boy, it touches on many aspects of his life. Packham creates a suburban jungle through his narrative, and shares his experiences exploring this; from sneaking out late at night to catch a glimpse of a fox and her cubs to the eponymous ‘sparkle jar’, a jar of small, shiny fish that is tragically smashed by bullies.
All of these small tragedies and small triumphs, such as the neighbour who takes an interest in Packham’s kestrel and his ecstatic experiences at the cinema watching Ring of Bright Water, which led to him falling in love with otters, are told from varying viewpoints and in different tenses to create a unique narrative that is both memorable and engaging.
Each section of the memoir ends with a chapter in which we hear Packham talking to a counsellor of some description about his life and where he believes certain habits or emotions began. Such a personal account of Packham’s life is incredibly moving, and by the end I was practically crying, which is a no mean feat. The beauty Packham invokes through his stunning depictions of the natural world works hand in hand with his varied writing styles to create a book which is both emotive and intellectually stimulating.
Thanks to the vast array of different experiences that Packham manages to pack into this extraordinary memoir, Fingers in the Sparkle Jar is both universally understandable and simultaneously extraordinary, and I personally believe that it is a genuine must-read.