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Emergency: Daisy Hildyard

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Is this your experience of the world, too, not just your narrator’s, and is this book partly an effort to hold onto that richness of experience in the natural world?

Can you say more about what your book reveals about human nature in relationship with nature nature?Maybe in some sense it’s a diminishing sense of the importance of my own consciousness, because it’s like… you notice all this other stuff that’s going on outside. Over the course of the war, Zuckerman took a particularly innovative approach to his investigations. Daisy Hildyard is one of the brilliant authors lined up for London Literature Festival as part of its climate strand.

I like to think that I would go mad if I tuned into everything, all the time, the squirrel’s heartbeat or the roar of growing grass…. I can’t speak for other languages, though I’ve read about very different relations with the environment that come through indigenous grammars. I read a lot of autofiction because I like a feeling of plainness in a story, but I noticed a similar structure in several books. Christina Sharpe’s In the Wake: On Blackness and Being, a study of the historical legacies of the transatlantic slave trade, refers in passing to marine scientists’ studies of whale fall.When he moves on he leaves behind an empty plastic noodle pot and we stay with that for a while… I imagined that over time, a picture of the area, and its workings, energy, and relationships, would emerge. This is not a book about Chernobyl as a localized geography, but a book “on the world of Chernobyl,” in the sense that the physical effects of the disaster have extended across the planet, altering the experience of time and space.

Rich and unflinching, this writing expands our sense of what it means to live, as we do, in a time of crisis. Daisy’s first novel, Hunters in the Snow, was published by Jonathan Cape in July 2013, and has been hailed as ‘a remarkably intelligent debut’, a ‘truly dazzling first novel’, and as a book ‘so rich in texture it deserves many re-readings’. The Royal Society of Literature has awarded Daisy Hildyard its 2023 Encore Award for her sophomore novel, Emergency. It is told by Lyudmila, who had, at the time of the explosion, recently married Vasily, “Vasya,” a firefighter.And so he didn’t—couldn’t—mention the glaring fact that everything we watched (the slender birches, the horses playing, the elk picking a new pathway across a disused railway line) was irradiated. Over days, weeks, months, then years, the camera closed in on the minuscule zombie worms who entered these bones, injecting acid to tunnel down and extract traces of fat.

DH: People have different feelings about language, but I get a sense that many of us, perhaps especially those who are invested in environmental or ecological relationships, dislike and mistrust it at the moment.Daisy Hildyard’s first novel, Hunters in the Snow, won a Somerset Maugham Award in 2014 and a 5 Under 35 honorarium from the National Book Foundation. David Attenborough’s gentle voice describes how, during the years following the evacuation of the area, “the wild has reclaimed the space. I wanted to tell a story that didn’t swallow the world in that way, one whose connections and encounters happen outside the human mind.

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