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Old 03-22-2017, 08:14 AM   #16
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Sounds like a wonderful holiday "away from it all", AnotherCat. Good to know you enjoyed the book.

It was a reread for me, and I found it to be just as lovely as I had remembered it to be - not always the case with something read in my twenties. I am certainly inspired to reread Lee's other books too, but have decided to spread them out between other books.
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Old 03-23-2017, 04:27 PM   #17
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I very much enjoyed this book.

Certainly, Lee does not sentimentalise his childhood. Though the language is often strikingly beautiful there is darkness in his portrayal of both the village people and the poverty of his upbringing. However, I think that the total message is that the awful conditions can--in a strange way--be a kind of inspiration for the spirit.

I was re-reading an old 1961 edition which has an extended "Afterword" by J.B. Priestley. You might be interested in one of his insights which, however you might disagree with it, does raise some interesting questions:

"This is an account of what was, in contemporary terms, a shockingly limited, downright 'under privileged' childhood. . . . These children were fed anyhow, poorly dressed, hardly ever went anywhere, obtained such scraps of education as they could pick up, and there in their remote, old-fashioned village, might almost have been living in the Middle Ages. In theory the limitations of their life were appalling. But in practice they were not entirely a bad thing. As I suggested before, there might have been some loss, as well as gain, when the change, the improvements, the progress finally arrived. To begin with, these children made the most of their family life. They may have seen little but the village and the surrounding countryside, but--and this is certainly true of Laurie Lee himself--what they saw and knew they really saw and knew, as many urban people now never see or know anything. The colour, the flavour, the richness, the wonder of life, were all experienced and enjoyed.

"What seems to me chiefly missing now for vast masses of people--and in much of the writing about these people--is a whole dimension in depth. Their lives may be broader, free from the severe limitations, the old rural narrowness we discover here, but they are also much shallower. Their actual experience, not what happens to their bodies but what happens inside their heads, is therefore less exciting, stimulating, satisfying, spiritually rewarding.". . . [italics in text]

To illustrate his point Priestley quotes a passage which describes the uncles:

" . . . I think of them still in the image they gave me: they were bards and oracles each, like a ring of squat megaliths on some local hill, bruised by weather and scarred with old glories. they were the horsemen and brawlers of another age, and their lives spoke its long farewell. Spoke, too, of campaigns on desert marches, of Kruger's cannon and Flanders mud: of a world which moved at the same pace as Caesar's, and of that empire greater than his--through which they had fought, sharp-eyed and anonymous and seen the first outposts crumble. . . ."

Priestley's comment is:

"It is this dimension in depth, with its sense of time and feeling for what is symbolical, that gives such passages as this, of which there are scores in these chapters, their beauty, their poignancy, their magic."

And in that last comment, I think Priestley has isolated the spiritual spring that makes this book so memorable.

Last edited by fantasyfan; 03-23-2017 at 05:07 PM.
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Old 03-23-2017, 06:02 PM   #18
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Great review fantasyfan, and thanks for sharing the Priestley comments. It is indeed a memorable book and I was so glad to reread it after a great many years and find it as lovely as I remembered it to be.

It is funny, touching, at times elegiac, and always beautifully written.
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Old 03-25-2017, 06:52 PM   #19
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...I am certainly inspired to reread Lee's other books too, but have decided to spread them out between other books.
The main reason I went straight on to read the two follow up autobiographies was that I had a copy of Red Sky at Sunset which is a volume of all three, so it wasn't any felt need to rush out and buy the other two. But am glad I read them.

A rainy day here in a bay 30 or 40 miles from the nearest habitation but with patchy cellular coverage so plenty of time to belatedly catch up on the forum :-). Often NZ Kestrels where we are but just seen a few Swamp Harriers hunting so far.
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Old 04-01-2017, 01:32 PM   #20
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Altogether, an interesting read. In places the writing is quite lyrical; I suppose that is because Lee was a poet before he wrote prose.

Aside from the Paul Bunyanesque uncles, Lee's story seems very credible. He did not romanticize cottager living. The story of the murder reminded me of Sherlock Holmes' remarks in The Adventure of the Copper Beeches when Watson declaims on the beauty of the countryside: "You look at these scattered houses, and you are impressed by their beauty. I look at them, and the only thought which comes to me is a feeling of their isolation and of the impunity with which crime may be committed there."

The story of the attempted rape is both interesting, and horrifying in the way it was treated. I was impressed by Lee's candour in including it, and appalled by how lightly he dismissed it.

I'm planning on reading As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning. It will be interesting to compare it with A Time of Gifts and Down and Out in Paris and London.
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Old 04-01-2017, 01:37 PM   #21
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Interesting comments, everyone! I really enjoyed this read, especially the beautiful imagery and writing style. It was a nice bit of escapism from the troubles of today's world into another era in history. I definitely plan to read the next book in the series.
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Old 04-02-2017, 01:17 PM   #22
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I enjoyed this book very much - so evocative! Here is my Goodreads review of it.

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After I finish this book, I would like to continue on with his autobiographical series. I found this article which compares/contrasts his books to those of Leigh Fermor which the book club read a few years ago. It also makes this statement about the differences between his first and second books.
https://www.theguardian.com/books/20...ert-macfarlane
Very interesting. I'd also thought of Fermor when reading this and actually meant to include a comparison in my GR review but forgot in the heat of writing it, heh. They both had a poetic bent of mind and it came through in their writing, and both wrote memoirs of English youth and boyhood that focus on a similar time (and both journeyed as inspiration, though Lee didn't until after this first book). The major difference being Fermor was of a higher class and Lee of a lower. I gave five stars to both and if I had to pick might prefer Fermor's more expansive view, but I think Lee probably came a longer way from where he began and made more of what he had.
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Old 04-02-2017, 01:22 PM   #23
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The poetic quality is certainly beautiful. The opening section reminded me a bit of Dylan Thomas's A Child's Christmas in Wales in its exuberant imagery. Later sections are like different stanzas exploring the moods of the narrator as he tells us of the "Grannies in the Wainscot," the suicide and murder, and the evocation of his amazing mother.

It is a memoir to savour.
I wonder, is the similarity happenstance besides the location or is it something to do with Lee also growing up so close to Wales?
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Old 04-02-2017, 06:48 PM   #24
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I wonder, is the similarity happenstance besides the location or is it something to do with Lee also growing up so close to Wales?
There could well be similarities in language rhythm. Similarities too in outlook on life in general when growing up in a little out-of-the-way place, back when communication took longer, distances were greater and the local village was your whole world.
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