Rural – Jersey Country Life Magazine

Book review: TWELVE SHEEP, by JOHN CONNELL

Life Lessons from a lambing season’. Reviewed by Alasdair Crosby

Anybody waking up on a Sunday morning, or dressing while listening to Radio 4, is probably aware of the slot at around 8.50am titled: A Point of View, in which various ‘well-known’ writers share their meditations on life with listeners. Sometimes the contributors have something important and well thought out to say; sometime, one feels, that they have been commissioned to ‘say something for five minutes – don’t care on what subject, just fill up the time slot.’

As an intermittent freelancer myself, I am aware of and can empathise with their problem, having often had to do the same, myself.

 A regular contributor to this slot is John Connell, an Irish writer who, after trapsing round the world and living in various countries, working as a journalist, writer and playwright, has returned to his family farm in County Longford. Having suffered, apparently, from depression and general listlessness, he has recovered by looking after a small flock of twelve sheep.

His book reads like ‘A Point of View’ broadcast and one can hear his voice, with its gentle Irish lilt, throughout the pages. Like the programme, the chapters (12 of them, one for each sheep), are meditations on the nature of  life. Some of them, like the radio programme, are a bit abstruse:

‘We are all linked by stones…’ Really? Zzzz…  

‘Home is a song to which I am still learning the words…’ Might not get to the end of the chapter…   

‘Each day there is a new thought to be had and new sheep to be met…’ Very Irish…

Very Irish indeed, but not in any pejorative English sense. The author is a fan of traditional Celic Christianity and of Buddhism… so you can see the direction that his thoughts take him.

Taking an analogy with the concept of Slow and Fast food or slow and fast travel, one might also speculate about slow and fast reading. We are all too familiar with fast reading – the airport novel, the latest blockbuster, websites, newspapers, etc. This book is a Slow Read, in the most positive sense. It would be a good book to read during Lent, which is what I have just done.

The author and I share a love of the local, the rural, the quiet, and landscapes imbued with history. This is not a book to be read quickly, but a book to ponder. I read it halfway through, put it aside, and then returned to the beginning. It would repay reading several times, I would have thought, and each time it would become more meaningful.

Chapter headings include: Walking is good for the soul;  In waiting we grow; All mothers are links to the great mother, and ‘Love is what you need.’  

To quote the author: ‘I have formed my writing in this small universe of fields. I have re-rooted in the country, in the terra sanctus, or blessed ground.’

A book to read and re-read, then, slowly and thoughtfully.

The only information  you won’t find in its pages is how to keep sheep.

 Published by Allen & Uwin; £12.99

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