Title: English Pastoral
Author: James Rebanks
What I Think So Far: Like an overwhelming 600+ books, James Rebanks’ new book English Pastoral was published following the Covid-19 lockdowns, on September 3rd. I happened upon English Pastoral in a shop window, glowing with a collaged display of new works begging to be read. Rebanks’ previous book, The Shepherd’s Life: Tales from the Lake District, detailed the hard work that it took to run a farm and live off the land that his family had looked after for generations, and the book did so with a constant stream of poetic prose that is rare indeed. Having read his previous book and being familiar with Rebanks, both as an author and an occasional contributor to The Guardian, I was ecstatic to dive into his new book.
Following in the footsteps of his previous book, English Pastoral paints a detailed picture of a life at one with, and at odds with nature, in the heart of the Lake District. Rebanks has perfected a gentle yet candid style of writing that lends itself perfectly to the gritty, bountiful life running a fell farm entails. Throughout the book, Rebanks grapples with the rapid advancement of modern farming and its ramifications – both financially and on the natural world it ravages in its wake.
English Pastoral leads the reader through the turbulent story of British farming through Rebanks’ personal experiences and memories spanning decades. It is written in three parts: Nostalgia, Progress, and Utopia. Through each of these parts, Rebanks guides the story from past traditions and happy memories from his grandfather’s farm, to the advancement of modern agriculture, and finally, to a call to action that details how we all need to take responsibility and act as custodians to our natural landscapes. It’s a moving piece of writing that truly lives up to the precedent set by the author’s previous works.
Would I Recommend it? Yes! Rebanks is both a wonderful storyteller and an honest nature writer. These skills, interwoven with the responsibility of his family’s farm and the environment he has been trusted to look after, make Rebanks the only person to tell a story like this with as much love and urgency as English Pastoral does. While his last book, The Shepherd’s Life, remains my favourite work of his, English Pastoral does its job incredibly well with a quiet, yet urgent dignity.
This book is just as timely as it is well-written. The Covid-19 pandemic and its subsequent lockdowns, have forced many people to slow down and to reconnect with nature. English Pastoral offers readers a glimpse into a life on the land that is otherwise unattainable. I cannot recommend getting lost in this poignant account of English farm life and environmentalism enough!
Words by Taylor Ogle
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