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Thursday, 30 April 2015
The Shepherd’s Life by James Rebanks
What we thought: If you appreciate Laurie Lee’s lyrical prose then you will treasure this book.
The Shepherd’s Life tells the real story of farmers; their traditional way of life, the fight against the industrialisation of farming, and the cheapening of food by supermarkets. It’s a tough, warts-and-all tale of the dedication, and great love, that a farmer has for his land and livestock.
Rebanks describes a year in a farmer’s life, starting in Summer; ending in Spring. In amongst the non-stop drudgery of impossible to ignore tasks such as laying hedges, hanging gates, bathing sheeps’ feet, trimming muck from their tails and cleaning roof gutters, we learn of his personal history, how he went from a boy who despised school, teachers and book learning to gaining a degree at Oxford University, and we also learn of his family who have farmed Cumbrian land for hundreds of years.
Woven through The Shepherd’s Life are strands expressing not only his frustration that small-scale farming families feel their income and place in society is slipping away, but the author’s anger at the public’s and policy makers’ failure to respect a culture based on community and shared land.
Rebanks writing is lyrical, descriptive and a joy to read. Of his time in the classroom he writes: I was thirteen or so years old, sitting surrounded by a mass of other academic non-achievers, listening to an old battle-weary teacher lecturing us on how we should aim to be more that just farm workers, joiners, brickies, electricians and hairdressers. It felt like a sermon she’d delivered many times before. It was a waste of time and she knew it. We were firmly set, like our fathers and grandfathers, mothers and grandmothers before us, on being what we were and had always been. Plenty of us were bright enough, but we had no intention of displaying it at school. It would have been dangerous.
And of his great love of the land he farms: There is no beginning, and there is no end. The sun rises, and falls, each day, and the seasons come and go. The days, months and years alternate through sunshine, rain, hail, wind, snow and frost. The leaves fall each autumn and burst forth again each spring. The earth spins through the vastness of space. The grass comes and goes with the warmth of the sun, The farms and the flocks endure, bigger than the life of a single person. We are born, live our working lives and die, passing like the oak leaves that blow across our land in the winter. We are each a tiny part of something enduring, something that feels solid, real and true. Our farming way of life has roots deeper than five thousand years into the soil of this landscape.
I enjoyed every word and every well written phrase in The Shepherd's Life, and I am confident you will too.
You’ll enjoy this if you like: Laurie Lee’s Cider with Rosie. James Herriot’s All Creatures Great and Small.
Avoid if you don’t like: Gritty tales of the hardship of an age-old way of life worked in a modernised society ignorant and uncaring of its true worth.
Ideal accompaniments: A roaring fire, a strong wind howling outside, and dripping toast for tea.
Available from Amazon