The Pinecone by Jenny Uglow explores the love, life and craftsmanship of Sarah Losh and brings to life an extraordinary Romantic heroine, a region and an age.
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In the village of Wreay, near Carlisle, stands the strangest and most magical church in Victorian England. This vivid, original book tells the story of its builder, Sarah Losh, strong-willed and passionate and unusual in every way. Born into an old Cumbrian family, heiress to an industrial fortune, Sarah combined a zest for progress with a love of the past. In the church, her masterpiece, she let her imagination flower – there are carvings of ammonites, scarabs and poppies; an arrow pierces the wall as if shot from a bow; a tortoise-gargoyle launches itself into the air. And everywhere there are pinecones, her signature in stone. The church is a dramatic rendering of the power of myth and the great natural cycles of life and death and rebirth.
Sarah’s story is also that of her radical family – friends of Wordsworth and Coleridge; of the love between sisters and the life of a village; of the struggle of the weavers, the coming of the railways, the findings of geology and the fate of a young northern soldier in the Afghan war. Above all, though, it is about the joy of making and the skill of local, unsung craftsmen.
Clearly focussed, wonderfully stimulating and surprisingly colourful.
Uglow has produced a quiet masterpiece: a book to savour and treasure.
I don't know another book that feels quite like this one.
It is a riveting story and Jenny Uglow makes the most of it.
Jenny Uglow proves not only the importance of Sarah Losh, but shows what biography at its very best can do.
An exuberant match for the beautiful, ornate and movingly personal nature of Losh's extraordinary church.
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