Bookish Discussions · Reviews

James Rebanks’ The Shepherd’s Life:


Spoiler free | Rating: 3.75 out of 5 stars | Read: 7 April – 9 April, 2018

I was debating whether I should write a review for this book. Personally, I wouldn’t feel compelled to read a chunk of text about this book, but something inside me convinced me to write this. I had to get some things off my chest, and, who knows, it might tempt you into reading this. The Shepherd’s Life is a non-fictional novel that recounts the life of an average sheep owner. It’s sectioned off into seasons, each detailing the trials and tribulations of being a shepherd in the Lake District. It follows Rebanks from his childhood, slowly making its way up into his current life. Generations of his family have lived and worked in the Lake District shepherding community, and now it’s his turn.

In general, this was an insightful read into the life of a shepherd. Their life is anything but monotonous; every day brings something new with it, whether that be lambing or shearing, feeding or relocation, it’s always something different. As someone who is currently living in a city, I appreciated the opportunity to live vicariously through someone native to my favourite place on earth. He knows the landscape, its animal and its weather like the back of his hand. It was every nature-lover’s dream. You were at one with the landscape, working alongside Rebanks as he performed his shepherding duties. I loved being able to familiarise myself with the places Rebanks recounted; I have visited the places he mentioned so many times before, and I love being transported back to them.

However, I did have some issues with the novel. Firstly, the snobbery was quite forceful at times, and disconnected me from the text. He portrayed himself as superior because A) he is native to the land, B) as a native he makes up the minority of the Lake District’s population, and C) he owns the land (because, in some ways, he does literally own his piece of land). As someone who is not any of those things, I felt like he was targeting me. He wanted to make sure I knew my place. This isn’t my land; it’s his. He evidently wanted to distance himself from his readers, which immediately put me off. Additionally, he often belittled tourists, students and teachers, which are categories I fall under. He didn’t distinguish between his past and present feelings, so I was unsure what to make of this. Did he still dislike these kind of people? Would he dislike me?

The majority of the novel was a three star read. The snobbery and arrogance irritated me for the most part, and I found myself a little disappointed in the novel. Rebanks, however, managed to bump up the rating a little for the last fifty pages or so. The ‘Spring’ chapter was everything I wanted from The Shepherd’s Life. It was dedicated solely to the animals, and I found myself completely immersed in the sheep’s lives. He didn’t really mention his school days or his family, nor did he moan or complain, instead it was focused solely on shepherding. Although those things mentioned shaped Rebanks into who he is (and without them we wouldn’t have this book), they weren’t things I was interested in reading. I liked the sheep. They were the best part. I would definitely recommend for the last chapter only.

Overall, The Shepherd’s Life was an interesting read. I am now familiar with the daily life of a shepherd, and how they must change with the seasons. I just wish his snobbery didn’t taint the text as much as it did; it would have been such a fantastic read otherwise. I felt like I was being talked down on, which isn’t something you want to feel when reading. Nevertheless, I am quite intrigued to read similar novels, such as W.H Hudson’s A Shepherd’s Life, and see if I enjoy those more. They are such homely reads.

Have you read this? What did you think? Let me know in the comments!

Thanks for reading, Lauren X

P.S. I would like to formally apologise for the cover of this book. We all know stickers on books can be difficult, the previous owners of this more than anyone. They obviously didn’t know that you peel slowly and carefully. I have tried to rid the sticker, but no use. THANKS, previous owner. 


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