Over the Hills and Far Away by Matthew Dennison (Book Review)

Over the Hills and Far Away by Matthew Dennison (Book Review)Over the Hills and Far Away: The Life of Beatrix Potter by Matthew Dennison
Published by Pegasus Books
Pages: 272
My Rating three-half-stars
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Inspired by the twenty-three "tales," Matthew Dennison takes a selection of quotations from Potter's stories and uses them to explore her multi-faceted life and character: repressed Victorian daughter; thwarted lover; artistic genius; formidable countrywoman. They chart her transformation from a young girl with a love of animals and fairy tales into a bestselling author and canny businesswoman, so deeply unusual for the Victorian era in which she grew up. Embellished with photographs of Potter's life and her own illustrations, this biography will delight anyone who has been touched by Beatrix Potter's work.
For the fans of her children’s literature who want to know the real-life animals behind Mrs. Tiggy Winkle, Jemima Puddle duck, and of course, Peter Rabbit.

Until reading Over the Hills and Far Away by Matthew Dennison I, admittedly, only knew of Beatrix Potter as the author of The Tale of Peter Rabbit. As it turns out, she wrote and published over 30 tales and books. I’d heard of some of them but have never actually read them. Or, if I have read them it was so long ago I can’t remember when. Despite not knowing much about Beatrix Potter, I do love a good biography and the cover of this one caught my eye a few months back as I was browsing Edelweiss. I even put it on my summer reading list roundup. Obviously it’s a book I’ve been meaning to read.

In the end, it was above average but it wasn’t stellar.

There were two glaring things about the book that kept taking me out of my reading rhythm. 

  1. It struggles with a chronology. There’s no steady consistent flow or timeline of events which I expect from a biography.
  2. It’s full of obscure references to her characters as Dennison parallels Potter’s personality to those of the creatures in her tales. That’s likely fine for loyal fans but I was left constantly wondering, “Who???”.

When I pick up a biography I want an introduction to and the history of a person. I felt like Dennison approached this book with the expectation that the reader already had a base knowledge of Beatrix Potter. I did not and as a result, struggled with my understanding. I did find her fascinating and was saddened by her upbringing. Her parents certainly failed her in preparing her for adulthood. It’s clear Potter didn’t emotionally mature into adulthood until late middle-age. As a whole, I felt her life quite sad despite her literary and artistic success.

What I will say is that if you’re already familiar with Beatrix Potter, you’ll likely love this book. If you are not familiar with Beatrix Potter, this book will pique your interest and likely entice you to seek out her lovely stories and fables.

As for me? I’m off to re-read The Tale of Peter Rabbit once again. Potter was indeed a fascinating woman.

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  1. I’ve read most of her stories (both as a child and to my children) but didn’t know anything about her life. It sounds like an interesting book, but I suppose I would need to do some research in advance to follow it.

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