Friday, October 24, 2014

As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning, by Laurie Lee

Staff Review by Chris Saliba

This second installment of Laurie Lee's classic memoir is a work of breathtaking beauty.

Poet, playwright and novelist, Laurie Lee is best known for his autobiographical trilogy Cider With Rosie (1959), As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning (1969) and  A Moment of War (1991), this last volume covering his time as a combatant in the Spanish Civil War.

As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning begins with a nineteen-year-old Laurie Lee leaving his Cotswold village in Gloucestershire and setting out by foot, to travel wherever his whim take him. All he has with him, besides the clothes on his back, is his violin. He decides that he will busk whenever he needs money. He tramps into Southampton and nervously tries his luck as a street fiddler. His cap on the ground in front of him, he starts to play, and amazingly, passers by start to throw in coins. Lee sums up his clientele:

Old ladies were most generous, and so were women with children, shopgirls, typists and barmaids. As for the men: heavy drinkers were always receptive, so were big chaps with muscles, bookies, and punters. But never a man with a bowler, briefcase, or dog; respectable types were the tightest of all.

Next on his journey, Lee walks into London and finds work as a labourer. Then he decides to travel to Spain, apparently for no other reason than he knew the Spanish phrase for 'Will you please give me a glass of water?'. Three quarters of the memoir are taken up with Lee’s travels through the Spanish countryside and cities, culminating in the Spanish Civil War.

The main reason As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning recommends itself is the lushly rich and beautiful writing. His prose blooms like a spring flower, giving the reader many aesthetic joys. It’s a book that seems to have grown organically out of nowhere, so original and idiosyncratic is the style. Many other writers from this period have written about tramping or working as poor labourers, notably George Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London and Robert Tressel’s The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, but Laurie Lee’s memoir stands out as the best in this genre

As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning, by Laurie Lee. Published by Penguin. ISBN: 9780241953280  RRP: $22.99

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