Saturday, March 28, 2009

What Else To Do When Not Knitting

Occasionally, knitting and I need to give each other a little distance, just for a short while. It's good for the relationship. And when this happens, there's more time to indulge one of my other loves, reading.

But, this time, I can only conclude that I'm pining for the one I've set aside. For what have I been reading about? Sheep.

More specifically, the book I've just read is one described as "a sheep detective story," a genre strangely neglected by most mystery writers. Thankfully, though, we have Leonie Swann, who has written Three Bags Full.

I had seen this book mentioned in the knitting and spinning magazines over the last year or two, and it sounded interesting. I was bursting with curiosity but had reading material already stockpiled like yarn and spinning fiber. I really didn't need to buy another book to add to the teetering pile on my nightstand. So I did the next best thing. I gave it to a knitting friend as a Christmas gift. She, once she had read it, turned around and lent it to me, bless her heart. Clearly, resistance had been futile.

In this very original tale, a flock of sheep near a village in the British Isles discover that their shepherd has been slain. Leaderless, they are at a loss and don't know what to do, but they eventually resolve to find out what happened to him. For the rest of the book, they do what they can to sort it out. But these are not anthropomorphized little people in woolly coats. They are sheep, who think as sheep might, about the things sheep care about. They long for succulent grass and herbs and sweet smells. They are skittish and uncertain if separated from the comfort of their fellows. They understand human speech rather well (their shepherd used to read aloud, of an evening, you see), but they really don't understand much about people and their ways. The story follows them as they puzzle out what they can about the humans, who the people are, why they act as they do, and what really happened.

The quality of the writing is enjoyable. Though written in German and translated into English, seldom does anything strike the ear as odd. The author also seems quite familiar with details of life in barn and pasture that I know little of, but that seemingly ring true. The central mystery of the story was enough to keep my attention, though it's not really suspenseful. And I confess I still found myself a bit muddled at the end when all had been explained. But maybe that's in part a reflection of the complexity of people and their messy affairs, especially as viewed from the simpler perspective of the sheep. And, in fact, it's the characters of the sheep that are the real joy of this book. Each is an individual, and one comes to know them well as they struggle with their own weaknesses but still try to do right by their shepherd.

All in all, it's a delightful book. I'm glad I was on time-out from the knitting for long enough to read it.


Anonymous said...

I've heard about it from a couple of places- think I really need to pick this one up. But then it just begs the question, what would goaties write about???

cathy said...

The little ones would write about frolicking around the meadow, and the big ones would write about wondering when mom's coming out with the coffee, of course! Maybe you should write that book. :)

(By the way, the current post of "What Housework?" asks the question: why is it hard to take pictures of goats? :)