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The Shepherd's Life by James Rebanks

We have gathered all the fantastic reviews our Book Club Members have sent us this month.

Click on each name to read the review. If you would like to become part of the Viking Book Club, sign up here >>

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John Robson

I was most unimpressed by the previous book Viking sent me, so started out reading this with low expectations. The subject sounded urbane (or should that be rurale?) in the extreme.

It actually turned out to be absolutely fascinating. The book is impossible to put down! It's a fascinating account of real experience from a modest, but clearly expert sheep farmer. It’s not an obviously interesting topic, but I learnt a lot, and valued every page.,/p>

This is a great read, both for casual passing of time, or more serious study. It would go well with a cruise, however you are feeling.

(Whilst the writer dismisses the content of his education, and the culture of his teachers, he did somehow acquire the skill of being able to write with great eloquence and charm. Maybe he got more from his schooling than he admits, notwithstanding the validity of his criticisms.)

Graham Wallis

After a somewhat unimpressive start, I began to feel drawn in to the shepherd's way of life. Although I never felt part of the story, I could see familiar landscapes in a totally different way. No rose coloured spectacles but a glimpse into an ancient way of life which doesn't seem to have changed much in the last 1000 years.

The local Cumbrian farmers are pictured as an almost closed society who will always support each other whilst remaining divorced from the outside world.

This is not the view seen by the tourist but that of the people who see it and live in it for all seasons and in all weathers, their livelihood being dependent on their ability to carry on and cope with all that nature can throw at them.

All in all it is an intriguing and privileged glimpse into a rare world which is both beautiful and frightening at times. I highly recommend it as an enjoyable read.

Janice John

This is not my normal read, but after the first 20 pages I was really interested in the book and thoroughly enjoyed the book.

Life of the hill shepherds as described by the author is extremely hard and yet very satisfying to them, it is definitely not a life for everyone, you must be born with the gene for a hard farming life.

I learnt a lot about sheep, severe weather, foot & mouth disease and isolation. I found the working of the sheep dogs very interesting. I had never heard of a tup before and found some of the terminology quite fascinating.

There also seemed to be a big divide years ago between the visitors to the Lake District and the people who farmed there, but the author seems to have found an understanding between the farmers and the rest of the community of the Lake District.

I was glad the author decided to explore another way of life when he turned to education, went to university. At least he then had a choice, but obviously farming was his way of life and he was very happy to return to that life.

If James Rebanks wrote another book, I would definitely read it.

Barbara Skinner

`A Shepherd`s Life` by James Rebanks was a delightful read giving an insight to a fast disappearing was of life that has seen son follow father and grandfather through the centuries.

The dedication and hard work, as well as the joys and triumphs, of the shepherding year are beautifully described and I would recommend it to both countryside dweller and towney alike.

As an aside it was good to read that my home town of Bury, and it`s grammar school, played it`s part in encouraging James to fulfil his academic potential. Many thanks for asking me to review this book – it was a pleasure.

Alison Johnson

This is not a book I would have picked up in a book shop so it was good to get the chance to read something different to my normal reading material. I was keen to read the book as I live near the Lake District and my husband comes from a Northern Isles farming family with the same Viking heritage as the farming communities in the story.

Despite the hardships faced by these farmers in an often hostile environment, the authors love of, and dedication to this lifestyle and his animals shone through. The story was really all about the sheep, land, family relationships and strong sense of community, through shared experiences and traditions, amongst the farming families.

One criticism I would have of the book is that I found the story very disjointed with the author frequently jumping from one topic to another. Once I got used to this form of writing the story was enjoyable.

This book will certainly make the reader and the many visitors to the Lake District more aware of the importance of the land and the people who still care, so enthusiastically, for it through good and the bad times.

Jean Harris

This is a delightful book which portrays a very different view of the Lake District from the one normally held by the thousands of tourist who visit each year. Although each valley and fell are described in a beautiful and poetic style, Rebanks goes beyond the picturesque; this is an authentic portrayal of what it is really like to live and work the land of Wordsworth and Wainwright.

Each season is described in detail; how the shepherd moves his flocks across the fells and what joys and sorrows each individual season brings with it. We learn about the different breeds of sheep, how they are bred, reared and sold and how neighbouring farmers differ in the way they rear their flocks. Although Rebanks gives an intimate portrait of his love of the land, the powerful influence his grandfather had on him and the love he has for his father, personal details are limited and fragmented throughout the book: the main characters in this book are the sheep and his relationship with them.

The evocative and lyrical prose draws the reader into the real story of a proud, modern day shepherd who is trying to maintain a traditional lifestyle that has existed in the Lakes for hundreds of years and hopefully will endure beyond.

Janice Duncan

I could not put this book down, it is written from the heart, the book tells the story of love and loyalty between the son, dad and grandad, the book informs the reader on how hard it is to not only how hard it is to manage a sheep farm but how hard it was to be a child on a sheep farm. The reader is informed about how the farmer has to deal with daily scenarios in all seasons, but overall it is about family loyalty and community spirit.

Kenneth Wakely

“The Shepherd’s Life” by James Rebanks is sub-titled “A Tale of the Lake District”. It is not really a tale in the sense that Red Riding-Hood is a tale ie. a story with a defined beginning, middle and end.

It should be “Tales” in the plural, because the book describes discrete episodes in the life of the author as he is growing up in Cumbria. As such, it hits the button. How many of us know anything about sheep except as dirty white blots on the landscape or as providers of cutlets and woolly pullies? How many of us know anything about the Lake District except perhaps as tourists? You might have heard of (or even read!) William Wordsworth and Beatrix Potter. After reading this book your next holiday will be a walking tour of the Pennine Way and the Eden Valley (appropriate name—well, in summer, anyway).

Rebanks’ style is Cresta-Run swift with not much time for the twists and turns of subordinate clauses. He is as laconic as Ian Rankin but without the cops. There is a slightly grating self-satisfaction that a simple shepherd without GCSEs managed to talk his way into Oxford but he should be forgiven. What better book to take on holiday than one you can put aside to go for a dip and then look forward to the next time you pick it up?

Gill Brown

This is an interesting insight into the rural life of a dedicated countryman. There are some interesting stories but it wasn't a particularly exciting on enthralling read for those with no detailed interest in sheep. It is not a book that I would reread.

Carolyn Steppler

Who should read this book? Anyone who wants to learn about the way of life of a fell sheep farmer in the Lake District, their challenges, difficulties and the good times; anyone who will enjoy the word pictures of the landscape and its animals through the seasons, and also anyone who is interested to read about past and present farming methods from a reflective, yet down to earth, farmer.

In this book, we observe James on the farm through the seasons of the year, where the farming activities are interspersed with the seasons of his life. So we start with the truculent teenager and read of his experiences through childhood, with his grandfather and father, adulthood and on to marriage and life with his wife and children. On the farm, we share in the challenges of foot and mouth disease, the hardships and the stark beauty of the snowdrifts of winter, the success of the nine year old James, selling his first tup to a "born and bred sheep woman", and much more. Much of the language describing the landscape is poetic and it is clear that the land is very special to James and, whatever else he is doing, it always draws him back.

Read this book to learn about a different way of life and I am sure your own will be the richer for it.

Anita Donne

This book was easy to read and detailed in accounts of Jame's life in the Lake District. It did slightly annoy me that although the book was divided by the seasons the stories were not in chronological order which I found a bit confusing. One minute he was married with three children and then he was a bachelor up at Oxford. Some bits were lovely and very poetical, ie the beginning of the winter Chapter but I would have liked to hear more about how James juggled his shepherding with his other job, and also about his family. I did enjoy the book and would recommend it to anyone interested in shepherding and farming , especially in the beautiful Lake district, but I did find parts of it very repetitive and it would have been nice to have gone into some the anecdotes in more detail as I found it all rather bitty. I kept wanting to know more and then he was off on another story!

Mary Welsh

This autobiography, written in beautiful, flowing prose, is an absolute gem that entranced me from the very first page to the last. Using the seasons as an underpinning structure, Rebanks, the son and grandson of shepherds, recounts the highs and lows of a life spent raising Herdwick sheep on a hill farm in the Lake District. This is no bucolic idyll rather it is an honest, revealing account of the skills and hard work involved in being a shepherd in a society that, overall, fails to understand and appreciate the extent to which he and generations of his family and their sheep, are “hefted’ to the land in a landscape that would be familiar to a shepherd from Viking times. Rebanks’s life, and that of his family, “is all about the sheep” and, despite having to work two jobs, one as a shepherd and one as a consultant to UNESCO, to maintain this way of life, he would not have it any other way. Nevertheless, he remains optimistic that the tensions inherent in a farming system that is more about sustainable production than maximizing output will be resolved satisfactorily. This is a tale full of hope and joy.