Under the Hornbeams

Emma Tarlo


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18 January 2024
ISBN: 9780571379804
384 pages

From the publisher

'Open-air theatre between two covers, powered by strength of character and beautiful writing.' - NICHOLAS CRANE

'A stunning book. Soulful and honest, it is a riveting, original story about friendship, freedom and the lives we share.' - TIFFANY WATT SMITH


'I'm not homeless: this is my home!'
Nick points to the branches of the hornbeam under which we are standing, its leaves still glistening in the aftermath of the morning rain. On one of the lower branches sits a robin, joining our conversation. It seems to be saying: Why should anyone want to leave this place?

Nick and Pascal live and sleep outside in central London. They are an unusual duo: Nick is an avid reader of history and philosophy able to converse on any topic; Pascal is quiet, spending much of his time lying still, communicating silently with birds and animals. They have lived alongside each other in London's streets for nearly two decades, yet do not identify as homeless. For the past five years they have taken shelter under the hornbeam trees in Regent's Park.

Emma Tarlo first meets Nick and Pascal when out walking. Gradually through the sharing of food, conversation and life stories they develop a friendship. Emma is impressed by their unique way of experiencing both the hardship and pleasures of life outside, and their conversations under the open sky prompt Emma to question many things in her own life, transforming her understanding of what freedom might look like.

Under the Hornbeams follows the seasons of a single year through sun, wind, rain and snow. Returning to the park almost daily, Emma meets the community of people, dogs and birds who gravitate around Nick and Pascal and discovers the precarious networks of giving and receiving that exist undetected in London's streets. The result is a life-affirming story that pays homage to the power of human connection and upturns many of our preconceptions about home, family, work and community. This is a book that will stay with you long after reading.


'A seductive report from an otherness we are in danger of disregarding: roofless nights of stars and storms, misted parkland mornings, the magic of food exchanges and gifted insights.' - IAIN SINCLAIR