Natural Light by Julian Bell

John Banville at The Guardian:

At the start of this marvellous, engrossing and illuminating study, Julian Bell poses a simple question, one that will recur throughout the book: “What is nature?” Easy to ask, yes, but not so easy to answer. The word “nature” itself comes, of course, from the Latin natura, which Bell translates as “having-been-born-ness”, and which he allies with “physics” from the Greek physis, “‘whatever grows’ or ‘whatever has a body’”. This version of nature he sets against the godly supernatural, and against the mind and consciousness.

By now we are on page two. However, we should not be daunted. Things will become simpler as we go on. Given the author’s Bloomsbury antecedents –he is the son of Quentin Bell, the art historian, nephew and biographer of Virginia Woolf – we might expect, we might dread, a precious style and an impregnable self-regard. Not a bit of it. Natural Light is as light and natural as its subject warrants, a “mystery journey” on which we will encounter wondrous sights and uncover troves of treasure. It’s even funny, in places.

more here.