Back in 1934 Laurie Lee decided it was time to leave home and make his own way in the world. He was just 19 and did this the way many 19 year olds of today do – on a whim.
But England then was very different and instead of catching a train or jetting off on a gap year, Laurie slings a change of clothes and his beloved violin in a bag and sets off to London on foot.
It’s summer, and he is in no hurry, surviving off the charity of strangers, coins from playing his violin and the bounty of the land, he paints such a gorgeous picture of pastural England that you’ll need to lock your door before you start reading else you might set off yourself!
Once in London he makes a living labouring and playing the violin, but his ambition to write is keen and he befriends a couple of young poets and even manages to get one of his own poems published.
But soon the tug of the world is too strong to ignore, he knows the Spanish phrase for ‘Will you please give me a glass of water?’ and on the strength of this decides to heads for Spain. Landing at Vigo in the north he starts travelling South. Slowly learning the land and the language but quickly learning that the country is headed for a civil war.
The language in this book is beautiful. I was in love from the very first sentence; “The stooping figure of my mother, waist-deep in the grass and caught there like a piece of sheep’s wool, was the last I saw of my country home as I left it to discover the world.” I’d never read Laurie Lee before but I knew I was in the hands of a true word-smith.
And the language is what kept me reading, it is so beautiful and evocative that I’m seriously considering painting passages from it all over my writing nook to inspire me – if you’re a writer you need to read this mans words.
However as a memoir of such an enthralling part of European history I felt it could have used a little work. True it’s an honest memoir of his experiences but a little less focus on his views whilst travelling and a little more focus on the lives of those he met would have improved this immensely.
He was a young man it’s true, and when young we often suffer from seeing only with our own eyes, but I felt as if he didn’t grow up at all throughout the whole book. In fact it was only when he returned home that his life in Spain and the reality of what was happening there seemed to hit him at all.
The epilogue, where he tries to get back to Spain to help, has convinced me to read the final instalment in his auto-biography when I get the chance, and the language in this book means I’ll certainly be re-reading it so it is still very deserving of ….