Friday, 3 February 2012

Nocturne by James Attlee

I looked forward to reading this book:  I adore the moon.  The very first and last chapter is about the author's moon watching in his home area; this was gorgeous reading, and really mirrored my own feeling of wellbeing about stepping outside into moonlight.  I don't know what it is about moonlight, but things always seem brighter with a white, full moon in the sky.

The book in split into several chapters of moonwatching in selected countries: the first is London, and provides us with some background about Galileo and his telescopic discoveries, lunar influence on William Blake's and Shelley's writing, and the experiment some years ago in a Hampshire town when the council switched off the street lights.  (The more I think this last item, the more I think it's a good idea, immediately saving the councils thousands of pounds, surely.)

Part two travels to Japan for the lovely sounding Autumn moon watching festival, which is the most important lunar festival in the Japan year, which falls on the 15th day of the 8th month.  This is when folks in Japan make trips to the best moon-biewing places in the land and they have parties, dancing and general merrymaking (although sometimes the sky gets contaminated with party lights which somehow defeats the point).

Part three visits Naples.  I didn't really care for this middle section of the book, Naples seemed dangerous, and willing to lead tourists astray in attempt to deprive them of their cash, hence a trip up Vesuvius when there was no chance of actually seeing any moon.  Apparently Dickens wandered around the same trip.  Part four is where it gets barmy - in Nevada, Las Vegas.  This is where the author visits a couple who have built an interstellar light collector to collect and focus moonlight for the purpose of curing illness.  The story around this is a bit of a shame, because it actually started out as a scientific experiment, but because of the associations around money being paid for cures, the scientific community won't touch it with a barge pole.  Read the book and decide for yourself.  However, the contrast between the brightly lit streets of Vegas where night is as bright as day, with the dark skies of the desert are interesting.

Part five was a chapter that I feel didn't really sit with the rest of the book.  This took a detour around Germany and the painter Johan Christian Dahl, whose painting was influenced by the moon, and the life of Rudolf Hess, Hitler's deputy.  Hess happened to be influenced by Rudolf Steiner whose ideas were based on the influence of the moon on earth's life, but perhaps this chapter should have focused on Steiner instead?

The book finishes in part six where it began - in London.  This is much more like it, here we get back to a final pursuit of the full moon on a clear night; worries about afternoon shower clouds and bad weather.  I loved the way the author abandoned any concerns about going out very late on a school night just to look at the moon.  Something maybe we should all do occasionally.