Book Reviews

Claire Dunn, a burnt-out forest campaigner with an ever-growing to-do list, is in danger of becoming a ‘pale-faced greenocrat’ – all media savvy and no soul. To reconnect with nature, she signs up for a year-long wilderness survival program, where she learns to build a shelter, gather bush tucker, trap animals, tan hides and – hence the book’s title – make fire without matches.

However, it’s the psychological aspects of her time in the wild that make this book such a fascinating read. Over the year, Dunn burrows into deep solitude, where she’s shaken by tremors of conflicting emotions: grief then ecstasy, self-flagellation then idle contentedness. The prose style keeps step with her journey, becoming more figurative and descriptive as she explores her blossoming eco-spirituality.

Her introspection bears insights into the inescapability of violence, the tyranny of the ego, our cultural indoctrination to be continually busy, and our need to let go of pointless striving so that we can exist in the moment. Male readers might feel alienated by passages on returning to the feminine, but will still appreciate the author’s extraordinary quest, told with honesty and the courage to be herself. To quote the epilogue: ‘What a beautiful, crazy thing to do’.