Buried Treasure

Jenny Diski on 'The Sheep Stell' by Janet White
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The Independent Culture

Although her family expected her to go to Cambridge like her sister, Janet White left home at 15 just after the Second World War, determined to become a shepherd. The Sheep Stell (The Sumach Press, 1991) is her graceful and sometimes thrilling autobiography. It describes the encounters of a strong-minded young woman, enraptured with the natural world and resolute about learning her craft, who makes her own way in a rugged world. Although she accepts any kind of hardship that comes her way, she discovers that her emotions and those of others are much less easy to control. When she writes about her interior life, it is with a natural reticence that makes the human drama, when it comes, all the more potent and disturbing. This is a book to be read attentively, filling in the gaps of what White herself can't or won't say. She speaks delicately about her continuing love for a man she casually rejected, and of the lethally dangerous obsession of another young man she encountered on the way to New Zeal

Although her family expected her to go to Cambridge like her sister, Janet White left home at 15 just after the Second World War, determined to become a shepherd. The Sheep Stell (The Sumach Press, 1991) is her graceful and sometimes thrilling autobiography. It describes the encounters of a strong-minded young woman, enraptured with the natural world and resolute about learning her craft, who makes her own way in a rugged world. Although she accepts any kind of hardship that comes her way, she discovers that her emotions and those of others are much less easy to control. When she writes about her interior life, it is with a natural reticence that makes the human drama, when it comes, all the more potent and disturbing. This is a book to be read attentively, filling in the gaps of what White herself can't or won't say. She speaks delicately about her continuing love for a man she casually rejected, and of the lethally dangerous obsession of another young man she encountered on the way to New Zealand, where she lived as a shepherd on an uninhabited island for a year. This is a strange and lovely book, and quiet as it is, it makes you gasp at the profoundly lived quality of the life it modestly describes.

Jenny Diski's new novel, 'After These Things', is published by Virago

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