Buy this book! Blood Knots: Of Fathers, Friendship and Fishing
by Luke Jennings was originally published in 2010, to very complimentary reviews. It has subsequently been reprinted as a paperback and a new American hardback edition has now issued. I have obtained a copy. This may be the best testimony that I can give: I did so because my original copy, a paperback, had begun to fall to bits. I had carried it around in my briefcase and, if waiting to see the doctor, riding on the Underground, or otherwise forced to be inactive for a while, I would open it and read it. Blood Knots
is one of those rare books that you can open randomly at any page and find something enjoyable. Luke Jennings is a renaissance man. In addition to being a serious angler and a brilliant writer on angling, he has written several novels and is the dance critic of the Observer
newspaper. An apparently devout Catholic, although he deplored the modernising changes that emerged from Vatican II, he was educated at Ampleforth Abbey, the Benedictine monastery in Yorkshire whose school, Ampleforth College, is regarded as “the Catholic Eton”.
As a child in the 1960s, Jennings was fascinated by the streams and lakes near his home. His father, a courageous cavalry officer badly burned in a tank battle in 1944, was not a fisherman and could not have angled, given the horrific injuries that his hands had sustained. He did however buy his son his first rod, setting him on a path that would lead to many waterways, from chalk trout streams in Southern England to dangerous hidden canals in north London
where great pike lurk among the abandoned trolleys and other rubbish, and muggers and prostitutes lurk among the canal-side undergrowth.
Jennings’ father, who comes across as modest, truthful, deeply moral and quietly heroic, was his first mentor and helped to set his moral compass, as well as gradually introducing him to country pursuits. Other Fathers, the monks of Ampleforth, also helped: quietly preparing boys not for material success in life, but for right living and holy dying.
At the age of twelve Jennings had the luck to encounter for the first time Robert Nairac, then aged eighteen, who had just left Ampleforth and was spending a gap year as an Assistant Master teaching History at Jennings’ prep school before going to Oxford to read Mediaeval and Military History. After Oxford he joined the Army. He and Jennings were destined to be friends for just ten years. Nairac proved to be an inspirational teacher, whose tuition extended beyond the classroom, introducing his protégé to serious angling, including dry-fly fishing; shooting and falconry. So began an enlightening, but often dark-shadowed journey of discovery. It would lead to bright streams and wild country, but would end traumatically with his mentor’s abduction, torture and murder by the IRA in 1977.
Robert Nairac was as great a moral influence as Jennings’ father. He was an old-fashioned and devout Catholic of almost mediaeval intensity, as well as a fanatical devotee of field sports; the two, religion and sports, being mystically - and sometimes bloodily – entwined in Nairac’s scheme of things. Jennings sums up Nairac’s lesson far more eloquently than I could:
“I understand now why Robert was absolutist in his method, and why he spoke of honour and dry fly in the same sentence. Because the rules we impose on ourselves are everything – especially in the face of nature which, for all its outward poetry, is a slaughterhouse. It’s not a question of wilfully making things harder, but of a purity of approach without which success has no meaning. And this, ultimately, was his lesson: that the fiercest joy is to be a spectator of your own conduct and find no cause for complaint.” How many of us are in that happy position? It seems that Nairac was.
The book has an elegiac quality. Another of Jennings’ angling friends (pike angling in this case) was Rene Berg, the musician, vocalist, guitarist, and songwriter. He too died young in 2003. The cause of death was not an overdose but a culmination of depression and years of hard living and drinking taking their toll. Blood Knots
is a great book on angling but, like Izaak Walton’s The Compleat Angler
, it can be read and enjoyed as literature by non-anglers. I have done very little fishing but finished the book at two sittings. It is un-put-downable. Two people to whom I gave copies - one a keen angler, the other a non-angler - found it equally irresistible. Part of the pleasure of reading it is the concisely elegant prose, which is worthy of a seventeenth-century writer. I do not know Jennings but suspect that he is very familiar with the writings of Sir Thomas Browne, Robert Burton and George Herbert. If you are only browsing the book, read Chapter 17, the shortest chapter, devoted to Claude Lorrain’s painting Landscape with the Nymph Egeria
in the Capodimonte Museum in Naples (and yes; it is relevant to the theme). ‘Past, present and future are one’.
Blood Knots: A Memoir by Luke Jennings, published by Atlantic Books Click here to buy from Amazon.