Posted inEssays

Signs and Wonders: Dispatches from a time of beauty and loss

Signs and Wonders
Signs and Wonders cover.

In Signs and Wonders, Falconer describes how it feels to live as a reader, a writer, a lover of nature and a mother of small children in an era of profound ecological unravelling.

Beautifully observed, brilliantly argued and deeply felt, these essays explore how global heating and species loss are changing not only our planet but our culture.  Our emotions, our art, our relationships with the generations around us – all the delicate networks that make us who we are, Falconer suggests – have already been transformed.

Building on her two acclaimed essays, “Signs and Wonders” and the Walkley Award-winning “The Opposite of Glamour”, this pioneering examination of today’s crisis is an elegant synthesis of philosophy, science, environmental history, cultural criticism and close observation. Is a mammoth emerging from the permafrost beautiful or terrifying? How is our imagination affected when something that used to be ordinary – like a car windscreen smeared with insects – becomes unimaginable? What can the disappearance of paragraphs tell us about what’s happening in the modern mind?

Scientists write about a “great acceleration” in human impact on the natural world. Signs and Wonders shows that we are also in a period of profound cultural acceleration, which is just as dynamic, strange, extreme and, sometimes, beautiful. Ranging from an “unnatural” history of coal to the effect of a large fur seal turning up in the park below her apartment to a meditation on the birds she fed with her mother as small agents of deep time, this book is a searching and poetic examination of the ways we are thinking and living now.

Named as a best book of 2021 by Anna Funder and Robert Adamson in The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age and by Brenda Walker and Tom Griffiths in The Australian Book Review


“Only the finest of writers can hope to convey the mercurial nature of the times we are living though: the sense of slippage; of terror and beauty. Falconer is such a writer. Signs and Wonders is an essential collection.”

Sophie Cunningham, author of City of Trees

“Delia Falconer is one of the best writers working today, and in Signs and Wonders she demonstrates everything that makes her writing so necessary. Brave, beautiful, and breathtaking in its elegance and intelligence, it is, quite simply, a marvel.”

James Bradley, author of Clade

“Scintillating. Delia Falconer is at the peak of her powers as a critic, and as an observer of the natural world. Signs and Wonders looks outward from Sydney, and from literature, to trace the contours of our environmental moment.”

Rebecca Giggs, author of Fathoms

“Delia Falconer’s beautiful Signs and Wonders is both solace and alarm as she renders the impact of living in the Anthropocene.”

Anna Funder, author of Stasiland

“Exquisite … From reflections on feeding birds, analyses of literary trends, to Falconer’s Covid and fire diaries, the essays are complex, ambitious, rewarding … Delia Falconer’s mesmerising Signs and Wonders helps us to process the disorienting complexity of living in this time of great beauty and loss.”

Jonica Newby, Australian Book Review

“Exquisite writing that swerves with heartbreaking facts, into hidden realms of our broken world, luminous with humanity.”

Robert Adamson, author of Reaching Light: Selected Poems

Hear Delia reading from the essay “Birds” here:

The essay “Birds”

Watch Delia talking about Signs and Wonders with authors Ailsa Piper and Rick Morton in the panel “Seismic Shifts” at the Write Around the Murray festival, 2021:

The Write Around the Murray festival, 2021

Other editions

Signs and Wonders cover first edition.