Granta 18.99 (304pp)17.09(free p&p) from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030

The Plot: A Biography of an English Acre, By Madeleine Bunting

The Plot is a "secluded acre" edged by trees five miles from Oswaldkirk on the edge of the North York Moors. On it, in 1957, John Joseph Bunting, a sculptor and the author's father, built a chapel. For thirty years, with the either willing or faintly resentful help of his large family, he tended the plot, swept the floor, trimmed the weeds and stamped down the molehills. But he never explained his commitment to this "manifesto in stone" in the middle of nowhere. He died in 2002, complaining that "death is so boring".

In this involving and sensitively written anatomy of a small field in Yorkshire, Madeleine Bunting cleverly combines two investigations. The first is a discursive history, ranging from a lump on the Plot that turns out to be a Bronze Age barrow, through Scottish raids and Cistercian sheep flocks, to the hardships of farming where there is "nowt but bloody views", and the coming of tourists, conifers and airfields.

The second element is John Bunting himself and his motives. The chapel was dedicated to the memory of three fellow schoolboys he hardly knew who were killed fighting in the Second World War. He had discovered the plot during a school picnic on the day of the D-Day landings. But there was more to it than that. A lover of solitude, Bunting seems to felt a spiritual need to create a sanctuary, a place that brought his life experience into focus. His estranged daughter, a Guardian columnist and author of How the Overwork Culture is Ruling Our Lives, left home at 16. She lives in London and has hard, straight-nosed things to say about rural romantics past and present and Dads who left all the housework to Mum. Yet for her too, the place produces powerful emotions: "It snags the heart so violently that I'm left disorientated by the force of emotion. It's a landscape peopled with images so clear and voices so loud that it shakes any sense of reality".

So what? I started this book dreading a sustained gush of modish emotional overcharge but was soon happily turning the pages with growing pleasure and admiration. Bunting is a literary carpenter, dovetailing the stories to produce something greater than the sum of the parts. She has an enviable gift for bringing the past to life and a journalist's eye for recalling little things that we all have seen, and instantly forgotten.

Take sheep, whose nine-hour day of solid chewing keeps the August heather purple and even, and whose saliva nourishes the new grass. "Only up close can you get a sheep's attention, and it is only sustained when there is hope of fodder; the eyes stare back unflinching, the brilliant golds of the irises offsetting the astonishing black rectangular pupils...We cannot be deluded that any part of this encounter is about affection or loyalty on either part. The sheep that met us on the moor that February day were indifferent to our predicament...". That sharpness of observation, and resolute unwillingness to sugar the story, characterise the whole book. The climate is awful, always windy or raining. The local farmers are bankrupt and selling up, the tourists sometimes ignorant and ill-mannered. John Bunting has a bullying streak and wages war on the wildlife.

Yet, by the end, the author, and through her eyes, the reader gains an understanding of why the father focused so much of a busy life on his quixotic building on the moors, and why the daughter, in this at least, found "common ground" with him. "Belonging", asserts Bunting, "is about commitment rather than possession". It is "where we nurture our capacity for awareness of the myriad histories that constitute a place" and from it "draw inspiration to shape our sense of self and community".

Perhaps we all need a Plot on which to anchor our stray lives.



Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Jude Law in Black Sea

film

In Black Seahe is as audiences have never seen him before

Arts and Entertainment
Johnny Depp no longer cares if people criticise his movie flops

film

Arts and Entertainment
Full circle: Wu-Tang’s Method Man Getty

Music review

Arts and Entertainment
When he was king: Muhammad Ali training in 'I Am Ali'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film Ridley Scott reveals truth behind casting decisions of Exodus
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Scare tactics: Michael Palin and Jodie Comer in ‘Remember Me’

TVReview: Remember Me, BBC1
Arts and Entertainment
Scare tactics: Michael Palin and Jodie Comer in ‘Remember Me’

TVReview: Remember Me, BBC1
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Image has been released by the BBC
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Will there ever be a Friends reunion?
TV
News
Harry Hill plays the Professor in the show and hopes it will help boost interest in science among young people
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
A Van Gogh sold at Sotheby’s earlier this month
art
Arts and Entertainment

MusicThe band accidentally called Londoners the C-word

Arts and Entertainment
It would 'mean a great deal' to Angelina Jolie if she won the best director Oscar for Unbroken

Film 'I've never been comfortable on-screen', she says

Arts and Entertainment
Winnie the Pooh has been branded 'inappropriate' in Poland
books
Arts and Entertainment
Lee Evans is quitting comedy to spend more time with his wife and daughter

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
American singer, acclaimed actor of stage and screen, political activist and civil rights campaigner Paul Robeson (1898 - 1976), rehearses in relaxed mood at the piano.
filmSinger, actor, activist, athlete: Paul Robeson was a cultural giant. But prejudice and intolerance drove him to a miserable death. Now his story is to be told in film...
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is dominating album and singles charts worldwide

music
Arts and Entertainment
Kieron Richardson plays gay character Ste Hay in Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Midge Ure and Sir Bob Geldof outside the Notting Hill recording studios for Band Aid 30

music
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

    Christmas Appeal

    Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
    Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

    Is it always right to try to prolong life?

    Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

    What does it take for women to get to the top?

    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
    Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

    Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

    Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
    French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

    French chefs campaign against bullying

    A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

    Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
    Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

    Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

    Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
    Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

    Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

    Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
    Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

    Paul Scholes column

    I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
    Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game