Pas de deux

I've been reading pairs of books. Scandals: Philby, then Profumo.

Oliver Sacks writing empathetically about his neurology patients -- and frankly about his life -- in On the Move, neurosurgeon Henry Marsh's investigations of hubris, dread and guilt in First Do No Harm.

Jim Shepard's mesmerizing story of a little boy in the Warsaw Ghetto, The Book of Aron, and a slim volume about Anne Frank, her hiding place and her betrayal.

A couple of hair-raising mystery stories.

And then, two extraordinary books, extraordinary successes (and surprising ones) both: H is for Hawk and The Shepherd's Life.

Helen Macdonald, a Cambridge academic, suffered more than the usual derailment when her father died suddenly. She was undone. Her consolation lay in an odd project, the finicky, consuming training of a goshawk. The partnership with the fierce creature, her immersion in the ancient practice, settled her.

James Rebanks writes about the historic way he and his family and neighbours raise sheep in England's Lake District, climbing and descending the fells with their herds and their working dogs. It's all he has ever wanted to do, he says. How did he come to do more, to reach further as an eloquent and sensitive chronicler of a deeply authentic way of life? Read on.

The books are full of wonderfully earthy detail -- hunting, lambing, sweat -- and transfixing beauty. Between them Macdonald and Rebanks know the name of every element in a sunlit Cambridgeshire meadow and along the grand, humbling sweep of the fells.

The pair of them remind me to observe closely, to savour fully, and of the universal stories that rest, coiled, in the particular. They remind me to reconnect here in Bonne Bay. It takes me days and days each year feel that I am here, for my imagination to swell again. Hurry up, I tell myself.


Many thanks to