According to the Registers of Scotland, 83% of the population live in urban areas. Those of us who do perhaps think we know a little about country life, after watching various representations on TV. More likely we don’t think about it much at all, as we are usually just visiting or passing through. Rebecca Smith’s Rural: The Lives of the Working Class Countryside is the perfect book to remedy this, and in that sense it is an important publication. Part memoir, part sociopolitical examination, Smith uses her own experiences and those of her family as the inspiration to examine the economic and class distinctions involved in rural living and, more pertinently, working. This division works well, as readers are drawn in by the childhood and teenage anecdotes and recollections, but are made to reflect on the realities faced by those who work the land rather than those who own it. The research is thorough and detailed, and by presenting various case studies to back up her findings, Smith keeps matters relatable; many of us will have visited places such as the Scottish Highlands or the Lake District.
At the book’s heart is Rebecca Smith’s desire to understand why it was so difficult to fully comprehend her family’s place in rural society – living what some would consider an idyllic life on beautiful country estates, yet with the threat that it could all be taken away by illness, injury, economics, and even the whim of landowners and employers. What really makes Rural an enthralling read is the writing itself, which is thoughtful, often lyrical, with a warmth that is perhaps unexpected. Although this is in no small part Rebecca Smith’s story, it is never made personal. Rather, it is an attempt to learn from the past and present to ensure a better future. If you think Rural: The Lives of the Working Class Countryside isn’t relevant to you, you would be mistaken.
Rural: The Lives of the Working Class Countryside is out now, published by William Collins. Available here.