Ronald Blythe’s 1969 book Akenfield — a moving portrait of English country life told in the voices of the farmers and villagers themselves — is a modern classic. In 2004, writer and reporter Craig Taylor returned to the village in Suffolk on which Akenfield was based. Over the course of several months, he sought out locals who had appeared in the original book to see how their lives had changed, he met newcomers to discuss their own views, and he interviewed Ronald Blythe himself, now in his eighties. Young farmers, retired orchardmen and Eastern European migrant workers talk about the nature of farming in an age of digitalization and encroaching supermarkets; commuters, weekenders and retirees discuss the realities behind the rural idyll; and the local priest, teacher and more describe the daily pleasures and tribulations of village life. Together, they offer a panoramic and revealing portrait of rural English society at a time of great change.
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In this gentle, subtle, absorbing book, Craig Taylor has written a fine partner-piece to Ronald Blythe’s 1969 classic, Akenfield. Unprejudiced yet caring, Taylor lets the villagers of comtemporary Akenfield — priest, handyman, dairy farmer, student, migrant worker, entrepreneur — speak for themselves. The stories they tell — sad, funny, strange — together form the most complex and supple account of that much discussed idea, “modern rural life”, that I have ever readRobert Macfarlane
Oral history at its best: direct yet full of charm; at once sentimental and austere. Taylor joins an elite club of canny interviewers who are able to delineate entire worlds with a collage of individual voicesRobert Winder, New Statesman
A little masterpiece of humour, reminiscence and analysis, Return to Akenfield is a very special triumph — a classic in its own rightDaily Telegraph
A generous tribute to the generosity of the place it describes…Taylor avoids cliches about the countryside being in a state of change (it always is), and concentrates instead on nailing the detail. The result is clear-eyed, astringent and none the less moving for itAndrew Motion, The Guardian
I enjoyed it enormously.William Trevor