Gentle and Fierce by Vanessa Berry

‘Gentleness and ferocity are two qualities which guide my experiences.’

In this book of twenty essays accompanied by her own drawings, Vanessa Berry invites the reader into a world of reflection:

‘The eye that sees through time observes how the past braids into the present and how it shapes what is to come. Like the compound eye of an insect, it perceives all directions at once. Through this eye I see how memories curl and twist around details and moments, observing how they connect up and constellate.’

Those of us who live in urban environments often have limited contact with animals in their natural habitats. And, as Ms Berry reminds us, those habitats are shrinking. Animals, for many of us, are confined to household pets, occasional pests, representations in art and nature shows. Some representations in art are kitsch, but all carry memories (and sometimes special meaning) to those who own them.

I accompanied Ms Berry on her journey, through family possessions and stories, to a Japanese island overrun by rabbits, to the sinking horse in ‘The Neverending Story’ (which immediately takes me to ‘Black Beauty’), to Frank the Bear in the biology museum. Some essays triggered memories for me, and I found myself drifting into a different journey.

I enjoyed these essays and the accompanying illustrations. I enjoyed them for themselves and for the starting point they provided for my own memories. There’s one particular essay, ‘A Spider in My Cup’ which takes me back fifty years to my own nocturnal teenage years.

I finished the book and will be revisiting it. This is the second of Ms Berry’s books I have read an enjoyed. I can also recommend ‘Mirror Sydney: An Atlas of Reflections’.

‘To be gentle is to resist the privileging of command above compassion. It is a quiet voice, a persistent whisper, calm and consoling. Ferocity is an armour, a forceful expression of resolve and protection. To be fierce is to know the intensity of the edges of feeling. It is the voice that calls out, intending to be heard.’

Jennifer Cameron-Smith



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