We’ve all read Cider with Rosie, haven’t we? Well I certainly remember bits of it featuring in O Level English circa 1968 and watching at least two episodes of a TV adaptation. I also remember picking up a copy of I Walked Out some years later, probably on account of its poetic title but not progressing very far with it. Since moving south I’ve also been aware of the comparative closeness of Slad (although it turns out I was wrong about exactly how close or even in what direction!)
So my knowledge of Lee has been at best impressionistic and sadly lacking in the details of his life or his writing, but my ignorance is now being addressed thanks to Paul Murphy, whom I met last month in Hawkesbury Upton, and whose book I Walked out through Spain in Search of Laurie Lee is not just an account of Lee’s life but also of Paul’s own more recent journey along the roads Lee traveled in Spain in the 1930s.
Written in the wake of the breakdown of Murphy’s marriage (also the reason for the journey) it’s a reflective and introspective book. It invests Northern Spain with just as much atmosphere as Lee gave to Slad, but Paul is also a scholar and brings Spain’s recent history into sharp perspective, reminding us that the Civil War was not just the romantic adventure that spawned For Whom the Bell Tolls and how even in present day Spain, Franco’s legacy is never far away.
Paul Murphy uses Lee’s journey to tell his own story and vice versa, and he is at pains to say this is creative non-fiction rather than a straight factual account. But every biographer (not that Murphy claims this mantle) will see his subject through his own experience and the two stories really are complementary, with each throwing light on the other (rather in the way Edmund de Waal interlaces his own and his family’s story in The Hare with the Amber Eyes). By the end of this book I’ll have learned not just about two men but about how all of us deal with the emotional highs and lows of life. You might also be interested in this touching addition to Paul’s story.
Despite my new appreciation of Lee, I’m not sure that I’m going to rush out and read him straight away, but guess what? Our local U3A has a trip scheduled to the Laurie Lee Wildlife Way (managed by the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust) early next month. What a great way to round off my Lee season.
It should be a great opportunity to soak up the Lee ambience (and poetry) in the place he immortalised.
And I’ll finally know exactly where it is.