Journalist and newspaper editor, Rosie Boycott, and her second husband, Charlie, a top London barrister, take an opportunity to invest in a smallholding in Somerset, where they will grow vegetables, flowers and herbs and raise pigs, chickens, turkeys and geese. What they hadn’t anticipated was how drawn into the local community of Ilminster they would become, with Rosie taking part in the surge of protest against plans for a new supermarket and the potential effect on this small town.
I love books about the countryside, farming, rural and village life, or those concentrating on people getting out of the rat race and going back to basics, so I was delighted when this was picked as one of my book group choices this month. It’s obvious fairly early on, that this is not as I was anticipating, the story of someone who takes on a smallholding, but of a couple of city folk, who decide that they will invest some of their money and weekends in someone else running a smallholding on their behalf.
Despite the authors altruistic reasons for this decision, reducing food miles, the production of local food in order to reduce reliance on national supermarket chains and the impact of global food systems on climate, I never felt that there was any real peril in the ongoing saga of the business, as it always felt just like that, a business, not a lifestyle or vocation, and it’s demonstrated that it’s not always the quality of your produce but the quality of your contacts that will probably get you out of a sticky situation, when a top London chef (who happens to be a friend) takes some stock off your hands and helps gets you out of the red financially.
From the point of view of the writing, my goodness, can this woman go off on a tangent! The story of her smallholding seems to drift off to encompass her two marriages, her involvement with the protests of the introduction of a new supermarket into the local town, her life as a hippy in the 60s, climate change, economics … the list goes on. I don’t mind these excursions away from the smallholding, but at times although they may have been factually interesting, they didn’t add to the main story of the book which was supposed to be about a year in the life of their smallholding. In fact, the actual smallholding seems to almost take a back seat to the authors views on the politics of farming, climate, local economies and many other subjects.
I think the overall problem I had with it was that I never felt connected to David, the man they employ for the day to day running of the smallholding. The only emotional attachment I got from the book was her affection for the pigs, who I have to admit, sound completely wonderful. I wanted to feel the ups and downs of the first year of a fledgling smallholding trying to make a profit while going back to the basics of food production, but because the author is a weekend investor, this just doesn’t come across in the writing. I suspect David is the heart and soul of the business, despite Boycott’s attempts to portray a connection with nature and her little patch of land, I couldn’t find a sense of place and home in the business she writes about.