Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Un-Review: "As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning" by Laurie Lee

'As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning' is the second part of an autobiographical trilogy by the author Laurie Lee. I ended up reading this book first because I had designated it as my holiday read, and I didn't want the experience tainted by the pure unadulterated, routine-laden English-ness of our flat/lives. This was the correct decision because, as I sit thinking about the book, I can see the beach, feel the salt spay, and can't escape the heat. I had better take of this cardigan and put my cuppa down for a sec.

Also, to clarify, when I say 'holiday read' I am not lumping the novel in with the swathes of generic seasonal fiction, but rather identifying the book as a means to improve your holiday. Yes, a holiday is mainly about the experience itself but, in those moments of relaxation, when a lot of us inevitably reach for reading material, it is books like this that that spring you to life and find the adventurer hidden within. When I think of the holiday where I read this book, I think of the way the book made me feel as I sat on the beach first, before any actual holiday events, that's how good it is.

The novel basically documents the authors trip across England and Spain in the late 1930's. Our protagonist leaves home with nothing but a few coins, a violin and a sense of naive freedom, with the aim of seeing the real world and avoiding his version of the real world (a job as a clerk - you can't blame him). If I were a man this book would make me yearn for simpler times such as this however, inevitably, I would have been one of the poor sods he left behind crying. Sigh.

The book is beautiful, and so painfully well written that it is hard to compare it to anything else. I am English and do sometimes yearn for this escapism and adventure into other cultures (though invariably yearn for home), so the story probably speaks to that part of me - but don't we all have this part of us? Assuming the book will touch the same part of your soul as it does mine, you will absolutely not find a better written version of this coming of age story anywhere. I don't know how Laurie Lee achieved it, but the novel somehow reads as idealistic, romantic and naive but gritty, authentic and cutting - all at the same time.

The thought of wanting to be in Spain - the real, otherworldly version of Spain he describes mingled with my version of modern Spain, makes me want to cry.  Lee describes Spain, his pre-Civil War version of Spain, in such evocative detail that even the towns he judges the most harshly appear beautiful in their own way. The colourful people; whether working class men, street children, proud matriarchs, eccentric innkeepers, devout Catholics or travellers propping up a bar - never conform to the stereotype which they could so easily become and, because this version of Spain is now long gone, there is a fantastical, mystical quality to almost all the towns he visits. Another interesting point is the sense of war encroaching as the book progresses. Even before the war is directly mentioned, certain behaviour and changes give tell tale signs of the tragic events soon to hit the country.

"For the first time I was learning how much easier it was to leave than to stay behind and love."

'As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning' is ultimately a satisfying and inspiring book, which has left me with a desire to read other 'travel' books (though it seems an injustice to characterise the book in this way). My partner raves about 'Down and Out in London and Paris' by George Orwell so maybe this next, although I may wait until just the right moment to create the best possible reading memory again.

Other travel books on the wish list - 'Notes From a Small Island' by Bill Bryson, 'The Great Railway Bazaar' by Paul Theroux, 'The Sun Also Rises' by Ernest Hemingway and 'Our Man in Havana' by Graham Greene.

Read this book if: You want to feel free, you currently feel trapped or stifled, you are easily irritated and stressed, you long for a simpler life, you tend to find it difficult to get lost in a book, you long for an adventure, you feel bored by real life, you need inspiration.

No comments:

Post a Comment