English Pastoral: An Inheritance - The Sunday Times bestseller from the author of The Shepherd's Life
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I was hoping that after a fair amount of repetition the author would branch out more boldly into the challenges faced by Lakeland farmers and in particular the influence of subsidies, grants and taxation. Four generations of his family building on centuries of their farming in the Cumbrian Fells gives us a poetic, practical, raw and almost miraculously detailed picture of this ancient way of life struggling to survive and to be reborn.
The farmers were changing, too – managerial “shirt and tie” types driving round in Range Rovers became the norm. In 1974, when Rebanks was born and I first made my way up the River Nile, after spending a month hay-timing on a farm in the Yorkshire Dales, over half of the population in sub-Saharan Africa was malnourished. I was gripped from the very first paragraph, where he describes joining his grandfather on tractor and plough: ‘Black-headed gulls follow in our wake as if we are a little fishing boat out at sea. I see farmers starting to work together to make this place even better, finding ways to farm around wilder rivers.Farming, unlike almost any other job, is bound up in a series of complex ropes that Rebanks captures in his own story so beautifully: family pressure and loyalty, ego, loneliness, and a special kind of peer pressure. In the meantime, farmers elsewhere were chopping down woodlands, draining marshes, destroying the microbiology of the soil and banishing nature. I think, genuinely, this is the best book I've read this year, and one of the most important books of recent years. Rebanks is eloquent - scenes of mud and guts are interspersed with quotes ranging from Virgil to Schumpeter, Rachel Carson to Wendell Berry . It made me simultaneously proud to be British, and sad for what we have become, but hopeful that we can change.
I can't remember a book I've wanted to press into people's hands more this year than this resonant, immensely thoughtful look back at three generations of a farming family . Since then, the author has become a frequent presence on radio, ranging from dedicated farming topics to general and very popular broadcasts on food, the countryside, and the environment. The author provides encouragement to do so but his portrayal of the Lakeland farmer as independent of such influences is a piece of pastoral fantasy. James Rebanks combines the descriptive powers of a great novelist with the pragmatic wisdom of a farmer who has watched his world transformed. The men and women had vanished from the fields; the old stone barns had crumbled; the skies had emptied of birds and their wind-blown song.Heralded as a 'masterpiece' by the New Statesman , it was shortlisted for the Ondaatje prize, and longlisted for the Rathbones Folio prize and the Orwell Prize for Political Writing. He makes no bones about the hardness of the life and his frustration at having to earn money outside the farm to make ends meet.