WHAT BOOK would James Rebanks take to a desert island?

WHAT BOOK would farmer and author James Rebanks take to a desert island?

  • James Rebanks is currently reading Real Estate by Deborah Levy
  • Farmer and author would take Anna Karenina by Tolstoy to a desert island 
  • Revealed quite a lot of English post-war fiction leaves him completely cold 

…are you reading now?

Real Estate by Deborah Levy, the third in her ‘living autobiography’. I stole it from my wife’s bedside table and am rather hooked by it. I’m now going to have to read the first two in the series. I love writing that doesn’t feel like writing because it is so clean and simple, and Levy is a queen of that style. I liked her novel Hot Milk, but am enjoying the memoir even more.

I just finished Kazuo Ishiguro’s Klara And The Sun and loved it. I’m a bit of an Ishiguro junkie and I love how he takes you into these strange but familiar worlds of his characters and makes you care about them more than anything else. I cried at the end, about a bloody robot.

…would you take to a desert island?

Probably Anna Karenina. I’m obsessed with Tolstoy, initially with his short stories, but lately I’ve got very into the novels. The scene where Vronsky sees Anna on the train is stunning.

James Rebanks (pictured) is currently reading Real Estate by Deborah Levy

I keep reading it trying to understand/copy/steal the magic, because that’s what writers do.

…first gave you the reading bug?

I didn’t read much in my mid-teens and flunked out of school to work on our family farm, then found I had lots of dark winter nights with not much to do. This was in the days when there was only one TV in any house and your dad had the controls in his hand while sleeping by the fire. So I started flicking through the books in my mum’s book case that she’d inherited from her dad, classic novels from the 1950s and 1960s.

I started reading books by writers I’d never heard of like Ernest Hemingway, George Orwell and Albert Camus, and was quickly loving these worlds opening up in front of my eyes. But perhaps the book that I loved the most was Tarka The Otter by Henry Williamson.

James said Tarka The Otter by Henry Williamson (pictured) gave him the reading bug

He was a sad, rather war-damaged little man, with some lousy political ideas in the 1930s, but his book about an otter was, and remains, magical and brilliant. I could relate to the things he wrote about because I was surrounded by wild things in the fields where I worked every day. And his sensibility for wild things reminded me of my farming grandfather.

…left you cold?

Quite a lot of English post-war fiction leaves me completely cold. It’s all middle-class, intellectual, urbane blokes writing about their boredom, trying to signal how clever they are.

I’ve tried reading writers like Kingsley Amis, and after a few pages I end up putting the book down thinking: ‘Who actually cares?’

And I can’t make head-nor-tail of some contemporary poetry . . . but every now and then I find a poet that I love, like the Irish poet Jane Clarke who writes beautiful and simple poems about her farming family in Ireland.

James Rebanks’ memoir English Pastoral: An Inheritance is published next week in paperback (Penguin, £9.99).

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