cover image The Heart of the Valley

The Heart of the Valley

Nigel Hinton. HarperCollins Publishers, $15.95 (236pp) ISBN 978-0-06-015655-8

Though it bears some initial resemblance to Richard Adams's Watership Down, this charming novel eschews the fantasy of anthropomorphized animals with speaking parts. It draws its drama from the daily life-and-death struggles among the commonest of animals, in this case, a family of dunnocks, a small wood sparrow native to England. We come to see the world through the eyes of a nameless female dunnock as she endures her first winter, mates for the first time and, with her mate, raises her first brood. The birds are threatened by forces of naturestorms, predators, an unfriendly cuckoo who lays her eggs in the dunnocks' nestas well as the threats that modern man has devised, wittingly or unwittingly. The dunnocks' story is interpolated with that of the human residents of the small Kentish Valley, but it is the valiant female dunnock who captures our interest and, inevitably, our admiration. (September 10)