Katherine Rundell Posts

Katherine Rundell, “The Golden Mole: and Other Living Treasure”

Award-winning writer (children’s and adults), thrill-seeker and roof walker, Katherine Rundell, has published another extraordinary book, The Golden Mole ( Faber Books). It is incredibly beautiful to behold and full of razzmataz in its language. It is incredibly informative. Fun facts as students love to say. “Silly” information that promptly gets embedded in one’s head whether you like it or not. For instance, who knew that a greenland shark takes 150 years to reach maturity before it can give birth. Or that in its womb, the strongest foetus develops sharp teeth and consumes its siblings. But once born, its metabolism is so slow that it only requires the nourishment equivalent to that of one and a half chocolate digestives every day! Similarly, a wombat can achieve speeds of up to 40kms/hr for nine seconds at a stretch. Compare this to Usain Bolt’s hundred-metre sprint in 2009, in which he hit a speed of 44.7 kph but maintained it for just 1.61 seconds, suggesting that a wombat could easily outrun him! Or take this: seals have surprise language-learning capacity. Rundell describes Hoover the talking seal in Maine. The golden mole, the animal, that lends its name to the book title is not a mole actually. It is more closely related to the elephant! Then Rundell proceeds to write about the creature and its iridiscence, but it is completely oblivious to it, as it is blind and lives underground.

The Golden Mole is an extraordinary book. It is primarily a collection of Rundell’s essays that were first published in the London Review of Books. These have been compiled and published as this sumptuous edition. It is as beautiful as a Jackie Morris and Robert Macfarlane books on the beauty of nature and its creatures. Rundell attempts to capture the diverse characterstics of these animals, their incredible evolution and really marvel at the beauty of Nature. Her joy and wonderment at seeing the extraordinary in the ordinary is palpable throughout the book. It is the perfect antidote to doom scrolling on the Internet. But be warned, such a crazily fascinating set of animals gathered together in this book makes one want to research these creatures some more on the Internet and that activity becomes a time sink hole.

It is an expensive but oh-so-worth-it book! It is a book that will get passed through generations.

15 Feb 2023

Katherine Rundell, “Super-Infinite: The Transformations of John Donne”

[I wrote this commentary about Katherine Rundell’s Super-Infinite: The Transformations of John Donne on Facebook, the night of the Baillie Gifford award. ]

“Parnell and Pope and their many allies were men who believed that art had rules: that poetry was a monovocal exercise; that there was one poetic voice, and we should stick to it. Years later, when Samuel Johnson compared Donne’s ‘false wit’ withh Pope’s ‘true wit’, it wasn’t a throwaway comment: it was real anxiety that Donne might be nigh-on insane. His work, for Johnson, was improper and ugly and broken — it was ‘produced by a voluntary deviatuon from nature in pursuit of something new or strange’.

But that was exactly it. Donne did not want to sound like other poets. Human experience exceeds our capacity to either explain or express it: Donne knew it, and so he invented new words and new forms to try. He created new rhythms jn poetry: Johnson said that Donne, ‘for not keeping of accent, deserved hanging’. He was an inventor of words, a neologismist. He accounts for the first recorded use in the “Oxford English Dictionary” of around 340 words in the English language. Apprehensible, beauteousness, bystander, criminalise, emancipation, enliven, fecundity, horridness, imbrothelled, jig. (And for those who bristle against the use of ‘disinterested’ to mean ‘not interested’ rather than ‘lacking a vested interest’: Donne was the first to do so, and we must take it up with him.)

He wanted to wear his wit like a knife in his shoe; he wanted it to flash out at unexpected moments. He is at his most scathing writing about originality, and those who would steal the ideas of better men:

But he is worst who, beggarly, doth chaw [ i.e. chew]

Others’ wits’ fruits, and in his ravenous maw

Rawly digested doth those things outspew

As his own things . . .

Donne imagined his own words taken by another. He imagined them chewed up and expelled:

And they’re his own, ’tis true,

For if one eat my meat, though it be known

The meat was mine, the excrement’s his own.


To read Donne is to be told: kill the desire to keep the accent and tone of the time. It is necessary to shake language until it will express our own distinctive hesitations, peculiarities, our own uncertain and never-quite-successful yearning towards beauty. Donne save his most ruthless scorn for those who chew other wits’ fruit’, and shit out platitudes. Language, his poetry tells us, is a set, not of rules, but of possibilities.


Katherine Rundell’s “Super-Infinite: The Transformations of John Donne” is a gorgeous biography of the poet. It is meant to be savoured. It is a like the old-fashioned biographies that were detailed but “Super-Infinite” has a very modern feel to it. Btw, the reference to “Super-Infinite” is from a sermon that Donne gave at the poet George Herbert’s mother’s memorial service.

…Magdalen Herbert…a woman who had been his patron and friend. Magdalen, he wrote, would ‘dwell bodily with that righteousness, in these new heavens and new earth, for ever and ever and ever, and infinite and super-infinite forevers’. In a different sermon, he wrote of how he would one day be with God in ‘an infinite, a super-infinite, an unimaginable space, millions of unimaginable spaces in heaven’. He loved to coin formations with the super- prefix: super-edificationa, super-exaltation, suoer-dying, super-universal, super-miraculous. It was part of his bid to invent a language that would reach beyond language, because infinite wasn’t enough: both in heaven, but also hereand now on earth, Donne wanted to know something larger than infinity. It was absurd, grandiloquent, courageous, hungry.

This splendiferous book is on the shortlist for the Baillie Gifford Prize 2022. The winner will be announced tonight, 17 Nov 2022.

Update: Katherine Rundell won!!

17 November 2022 / 15 Feb 2023

Book Post 47: 14 – 21 Oct 2019

Book Post 47 includes some of the titles received in the past few weeks. Wherever available Amazon’s Kindle widget has been embedded in the blog post. It will allow you to browse through the book before you decide to buy it.

22 Oct 2019

Katherine Rundell “The Explorer”

Katherine Rundell’s The Explorer is about four children who crashed in the Amazon jungle. They do their best to figure out the jungle and how to survive till they come across a cranky explorer. He is as surprised as they are about each other’s existence in the jungle. Nevertheless he takes charge and rather gruffly guides them on what to eat and what not to eat in the jungle. It is he who ultimately helps the children leave the jungle and return home for which they are eternally grateful.

The Explorer as with the novels Katherine Rundell writes is inspired by a historical fact. It becomes the basis of her fiction for young adults. For this particular novel it was the British geographer and explorer Peter Fawcett who was an artillery officer “with an astonishingly tough constitution and enough moustache for three men.”

He spent much of his life in search of what he called the City of Z, a city he imagined as richly sophisticated and peppered with gold. 

In 1925, shortly after crossing the Upper Xingu, a south-eastern tributary river of the Amazon, he and his two companions disappeared. He was never heard from again. 

Katherine Rundell has an eye for incredible detail in the storytelling making the action and landscape come alive on every page while at the same time the scrumptious illustrations are a bonus. In The Explorer it is the tiny details of jungle life, the behaviour of sloths, what kind of beans are appropriate to eat or not, descriptions of the river bank and the foliage — all ring true and understandably so, given the amount of research Katherine Rundell puts in for every book.

There was so much to look at; so much that was strange; so much that was new and vast and so very palpably alive.

The trees dipped down their branches, laden with leaves broad enough to sew into trousers. He passed a tree with a vast termite nest, as big as a bathtub, growing around it. He gave it a wide berth. 

The greenness, which had seemed such a forbidding wall of colour, was not, up close, green at all, Fred thought. It was a thousand different colours; lime and emerald and moss and jade and a deep dark almost black green that made him think of sunken ships. 

Fred breathed in the smell. He’d been wrong to think it was thick, he thought; it was detailed. It was a tapestry of air. 

The story itself about the children coming together on this adventure is so beautifully done wherein the individual personalities remain distinct but ever so slightly as the story progresses they also bond as a team. It is a triumph in storytelling for young adults — they who are at the cusp of adulthood but not too far from childhood and love imaginative storytelling. Hence it is absolutely wonderful that The Explorer won the Costa Book Awards 2017.

Katherine Rundell The Explorer ( Illustrated by Hannah Horn) Bloomsbury, London, 2017. Pb. pp.

2 May 2018 

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