Three Bags Full

When we decided to add books to our stock, the first book we brought in was Three Bags Full, a 2005 novel by German author Leonie Swann. It was a book I had owned for quite some time, a random date-night find at Barnes & Noble in the mid-oughts. I have a vague memory of laughing out loud while reading the back cover- "On a hillside near the cozy Irish village of Glennkill, the members of the flock gather around their shepherd, George, whose body lies pinned to the ground with a spade. George has cared for the sheep, reading them a plethora of books every night. The daily exposure to literature has made them far savvier about the workings of the human mind than your average sheep. Led by Miss Maple, the smartest sheep in Glennkill (and possibly the world), they set out to find George’s killer. 

In my teenagehood I had grown weary of being asked about my college plans, not to mention my post-college plans and had taken to telling people I was planning on shepherding. Keeping in mind that I was a city kid, with no knowledge of sheep tending, this usually elicited eye rolls and scoffing. I didn't know why I'd hit on shepherding, except for my tendency to carry around worn copies of James Herriot books and my quiet need to, mostly, be left to my own devices. Especially where work was concerned.

The poster in my dorm room during the shepherd years. 

The general reaction of my peers and teachers to the shepherding idea was worse than to my previous idea of being a detective. I believe they thought that was a result of too many after-school reruns of Hill Street Blues, but that was never my intention. No, I wanted to be Miss Marple- the Joan Hickson version, preferably.  

Reading Three Bags Full was a more complex experience than I had expected. The author creates a world wherein the reader becomes a part of this flock of sheep, sharing their thoughts and fears and being absolutely bewildered when it comes to the actions of the people in this story. "What on earth are they doing?" you find yourself wondering of people you can't quite keep straight. Meanwhile, you find yourself attaching to specific sheep, knowing them as individuals, preferring some over others- finding your flock, I suppose. 

“No, little one, George's ghost won't come back. Human beings don't have souls. No soul, no ghost. Simple."
"How can you say that?" protested Mopple. "We don't know whether humans have souls or not."
"Every lamb knows that your soul is in your sense of smell. And human beings don't have very good noses." Maude herself had an excellent sense of smell, and often thought about the problem of souls and noses.
"So you'd only see a very small ghost. Nothing to be afraid of.”

For me, when I read this completely ridiculous but often profound book, I thought about how it encompassed all the things I said I wanted a long time ago. It's about sheep and wool and shepherds. The shepherd's sweaters and their solitary lives and their books. It's about detectives of unusual varieties, the puzzles they solve- or don't. It's about love between people and the animals they care for- and vice versa.

“Cordelia loved his explanations. She loved knowing words that belonged to things she'd never seen, even to things you couldn't see at all. She remembered those words carefully... "Magic," George had said, "is something unnatural, something that doesn't really exist. If I snap my fingers and Othello suddenly turns white, that's magic. If I fetch a bucket of paint and paint him white, it isn't." He laughed, and for a moment it looked as if he felt like snapping his fingers or fetching that bucket. Then he went on, "Everything that looks like magic is really a trick. There's no such thing as magic." Cordelia grazed with relish. "Magic" was her favorite word - for something that didn't exist at all.”

Leonie Swann has a background in philosophy, psychology, and literature and lives in Berlin. Her current book The Sunset Years of Agnes Sharp can be found here

Three Bags Full is now out of print, and we are no longer able to order it. Of the books in our shop, it has been one of our top sellers. We will miss it terribly. 


Back to blog