Rag and Bone (John Murray, 2020)
Royal Society of Literature Giles St Aubyn Award for Non-fiction
‘Through watery debris, Lisa Woollett conjures up, in poetic prose and brilliant stories, the spin cycle of history. In Rag and Bone, she elegantly picks her way through the trash, to reveal something gloriously and richly strange: a portrait of what we were and what we might become’
Available from The Guardian Bookshop, Waterstones, Blackwells, Foyles and Amazon. Best of all, particularly in these difficult times, do use local independent bookshops (mine is The Book Shop Liskeard and they are happy to post). Or try Hive, which allows you to support a bookshop of your choice.
From relics of Georgian empire-building and slave-trading, through Victorian London’s barged-out refuse to 1980s fly-tipping and the pervasiveness of present-day plastics, Rag and Bone traces the story of our rubbish, and, through it, our history of consumption.
In a series of beachcombing and mudlarking walks – beginning in the Thames in central London, then out to the Kentish estuary and finally the sea around Cornwall – Lisa Woollett also tells the story of her family, a number of whom made their living from London’s waste, and who made a similar journey downriver from the centre of the city to the sea.
A beautifully written but urgent mixture of social history, family memoir and nature writing, Rag and Bone is a book about what we can learn from what we’ve thrown away – and a call to think more about what we leave behind.
‘Compulsive… an absorbing memoir… Woollett has a gift for bringing to life the strange borderlands of the foreshore’
Observer review here
‘Warmth, wit and gorgeously descriptive language… Woollett’s alchemy is to form narrative gold from these scraps‘
Evening Standard review here
‘Wonderful… if you loved The Salt Path, you’ll love this book. Glorious celebration of where the natural world meets the human (and the messes we make)’
Viv Groskop, BBC Saturday Live
‘A powerful book that has much to say about the present and future state of our world‘
‘A beguiling blend of memoir, nature writing and social history‘
The Bookseller, Editor’s Choice
‘Subtle, dark and funny, with flashes of beauty and wonder, Rag and Bone is a compelling meditation on the consumer culture and its consequences’
‘Lisa Woollett’s beautifully descriptive language intertwines the stories of the river’s history with that of her family, like a muddy journey through time. But it’s so much more than that – in recording the waste and the lives we’ve left behind she’s given us a chance to change our ways and possibly head towards a cleaner future. A really important book’
Raynor Winn, The Salt Path
‘Rag and Bone digs deep into the mud of the Thames estuary, and comes up with something compelling and urgent – history told through rubbish. A fascinating book‘
‘A delicious confection of a book, blending history and memoir with thoughts and close observation. I so enjoyed watching shadows of the past flit across Lisa Woollett’s watery pages. It is a timely book, too, when, as Woollett writes, ‘our waste threatens to overwhelm us‘
Strong Words Magazine