My rating: 3 of 5 stars
H. E. Bates is a deceptive writer. He wouldn’t, I should think, have known this at the time when he was writing his classic stories back in the 50s; but reading his works today takes some careful work.
This is because books such as ‘Love for Lydia’ or ‘The Darling Buds of May’ are very beautiful, often very sweet stories on a gloriously rich England and with a great love of ordinary English folk. To be sure, ‘Love for Lydia’ is a tragedy and there’s a great deal of hobnobbing of the educated and privileged classes. Nevertheless, it is beautifully written, pastoral in style and, like ‘Remains of the Day’ something of a longing for a simpler time.
And there’s the deception: there was no simpler time. The characters within are caricatures of both ruling and rural classes and fail to really tell the truth of what life was like for either.
The female character of the title, is a spoilt and unthinking brat of a girl who, from beginning to end, is positively unlovely and seems to hold nothing more than a sexual magnetism to the various men who fawn at her feet. Why they fall hopelessly in love with her, God only knows. The narrator, Richardson, is a wet drip who is neither capable of giving Lydia the chastisement she deserves, nor of pulling away when she clearly becomes not worth the effort, is hoist by her own petard and he falls out of love with her. In between, he mopes around and is absolutely ineffectual. I’m fairly certain you could beat him around the head and he would hardly murmur. The rest of the characters barely register as anything other than bit parts which come in and out from time to time – including ‘Blackie’, Richardson’s chief (though not only) rival for Lydia’s affections. The main question I ask of these people is merely ‘Why?’
Really then, there’s not a great deal of good reason why anyone should read this book – which is probably why it has very much fallen out of favour during this century – except that, somehow, Bates does manage to write in a delightful manner which is pleasing and rather soothing. This book lures you in, despite an urge to slap every character within and certainly despite the stereotypes and bored cliches which abound on every page. It really isn’t an unpleasant book to read.
Could I recommend this book to anyone to read? No. Was it a waste of time reading it? Also, no. Has it put me off the author? Oddly – and as a surprise to myself – again, I must say no. I will review ‘The Darling Buds of May’ soon. Did I care about these characters when the last page was turned? Alas, not at all. They’re all instantly forgettable.
An odd mix then, this little novel which you could get through in a day or two. Not a waste of time, but not a classic must-read either. It is, in essence, dangerously quaint.
Social Entrepreneur, educationalist, bestselling author and journalist, D K Powell is the author of the bestselling collection of literary short stories “The Old Man on the Beach“. His first book, ‘Sonali’ is a photo-memoir journal of life in Bangladesh and has been highly praised by the Bangladeshi diaspora worldwide. Students learning the Bengali language have also valued the English/Bengali translations on every page. Listen to his life story in interview with the BBC here.
D K Powell is available to speak at events (see his TEDx talk here) and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Alternatively, he is available for one-to-one mentoring and runs a course on the psychology of writing.
Ken writes for a number of publications around the world. Past reviewer for Paste magazine, The Doughnut, E2D and United Airways, and currently reviews for Lancashire Life magazine and Northern Arts Review.