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Lark Rise To Candleford (2000)

Lark Rise to Candleford (2000)
Rating
3.9 of 5 Votes: 3
ISBN
0141183314 (ISBN13: 9780141183312)
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English
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publisher
penguin books, limited (uk)
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Lark Rise To Candleford (2000)
Lark Rise To Candleford (2000)

About book: I was inspired to get myself a copy of this book after being delighted with the BBC miniseries (am eagerly awaiting season 4, even if it is only partial). I've tried to describe how this book reads, not sure I'm going to be successful here. Let's see. It's a semi-fictional (I think names of people & places are changed, no idea what else was fictionalized) auto-biography that reads like great fiction, but not in a "fiction" way at all, but in a great biography/historical document sort of way. Not making sense here? I won't belabor the point. This is an account of a triad of small communities in British farm country from about 1880 to early 1900, as told by a girl from a tiny hamlet known as Lark Rise. She moves to another tiny village, Candleford Green as assistant in the post-office there, and then, at the end of the book, although we don't know where she goes, we know she has gone off forever to a larger place. One funny thing about this book: it's amazing what BBC did with the material. They took names and one or two incidents from the book, but mostly the miniseries was completely new and unrelated. A few really interesting things about this book: I loved reading about the food, she described in detail the diets (and subsequent health) of the inhabitants of the tiny hamlet of Lark Rise. They subsisted on vegetables from their gardens, pork (mostly cured), lard (which is what they spread on their bread) and the occasional poultry item, and once or twice a year joint of beef. Some of them had some honey from their own bees, some of them sent out for a little bit of milk, they bought bread from the baker (probably not much, they couldn't afford it), and their only other grain came from what they could glean in the fall--it didn't last long. Modern readers say "salt pork & lard!" why didn't they all die of heart-disease? Yet she describes the people and their healthy bone & teeth structure in detail. The people seemed to be healthy in body and in mind, with a healthy outlook on God, man and nature. I also loved reading about how they prepared and cooked their food. What would it be like to cook everything in a large kettle over an open fire? Little baskets hung inside the cauldron with the side dishes? Amazing. I loved how Thompson described life in what seems to us to be almost an idyllic time, and yet she doesn't make it unreal. She is very candid about the fact of their poverty--food was the only thing they had enough of (good thing, too!) everything else they went without, including essentials such as heat and clothing sometimes. The reason it read so well, I think, was that Thompson was so good at just dropping the reader right into the place. Her love for her childhood home made her words sparkle and entrance. A couple of gems from the end of the book: "...and the row of half a dozen cottages, all exactly alike in outward appearance and inside accommodation, but differing in their degree of comfort and cleanliness. Laura wondered then, as she was often to do in her after-life, why, with houses exactly alike and incomes the same to a penny, one woman will have a cosy, tasteful little home and another something not much better than a slum dwelling." (p. 532) Interesting observation.And, commenting on how things were looking at the turn of the century, low prices on food & necessities, rising wages, couples with more "things" and more leisure and less children and perhaps less sense of what it was to truly be a neighbor, the narrator makes this observation: "Those were the lines along which they were developing. Spiritually, they had lost ground, rather than gained it. Their working-class forefathers had had religious or political ideals; their talk had not lost the raciness of the soil and was seasoned with native wit which, if sometimes crude, was authentic. Few of this section of their sons and daughters were churchgoers, or game much thought to religious matters. When the subject of religion was mentioned, they professed to subscribe to its dogmas and to be shocked at the questioning of the most outworn of these; but, in reality, their creed was that of keeping up appearances. The reading they did was mass reading. Before they would open a book, they had to be told it was one that everybody was reading. ...They had not a sufficient sense of humor to originate it, but borrowed it from music-hall turns and comic papers, and the voice in which such gems were repeated was flat and toneless compared to the old country speech." (p. 554) I just thought that was interesting. Nowhere does the author speak on religious or political matters besides in passing, nor does she bemoan the change of times, but she was an acute observer of what, perhaps, has been lost in the course of progress. That agrarian lifestyle is gone, and with it a totally different breed of humble, no-nonsense, witty, hard-working, healthy people.This book was not, as some reviewers have said, a glossed-over look into what the author remembers as the perfection of her youth. Rather a beautifully written account of life long ago.

Lark Rise to Candleford was an intriguing journey. I had mixed feelings about it all the way and there were several times when I nearly abandoned ship. But I kept going, and the reading got better the further I got. In the end, I wished the story went on longer, so I could follow Laura further into her newly independent life.This book is hard to define – could it have pioneered the ‘fictionalised memoir’ long before it became a well known genre? It’s basically non-fiction, written in episodic, report-like sections, focusing on the village and its inhabitants. Flora Thompson changes her name to Laura in the book, but we don’t know what else is fictionalised.What I craved was character, and I didn’t appreciate that the village (or hamlet as Thompson calls it) was actually the main character. The book starts off reading like an anthropological observation of village life, with lengthy descriptions of pig-killing, housework and fieldwork, and styles of dress. I was struggling to place Thompson in amongst these rather dry, detached observations. She only ever mentions herself and her brother vaguely as ‘the children in the end house.’ Here are my thoughts on Thompson part-way in:'My impression of Thompson so far (100 pages in) is she's vaguely cranky, moralising, interested in criticising the present and idealising the past. People were poor, but they were happier back then. No one got sick because they lived outside and were hardy and hard-working. The men were happy with their half-pint. Everyone sang as they worked. There was a real sense of community. Blah, blah, blah.'She was writing as a mature woman; she was in her early 60s when the first book, Lark Rise, was published in 1939, and nearly 70 when the three books were reissued into the current combined volume, Lark Rise to Candleford, in 1945. I think this backdrop of the modern world encroaching, a second world war beginning, and the author herself aging, all have an effect on the tone and presentation of the story. (For instance, the crankiness.)It all raises the question, why is Thompson writing this book? She tells us so little about herself, I don’t think the ‘memoir’ label is quite accurate. Laura/Flora is nearly as detached as a fly on the wall, through most of the book. But then she pops into the narrative occasionally with unexpected passion. At times, the narrative becomes almost like a personal journal, with a lovely episode when Laura and her brother walk to Candleford alone for the first time. There were more of these personal stories later in the book, which is why I enjoyed the end more than the beginning. But this constant change in perspective makes the book have a muddled feel to it, like the purpose isn’t quite clear, even to the author herself.This is a book ripe for discussion, because it’s interestingly flawed, but also enjoyable and memorable (and has an excellent TV series to go with it).
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Reviews
Chris
The introduction to the Folio edition implied there was some question about whether this work should be considered a novel or a memoir, but it could not possibly be considered anything but a memoir.That being said, Flora Thompson has a knack for describing interesting detail, not writing about herself, and not fabricating, all of which are the qualities of a good novelist. Her descriptions of life in the 1880s and 1890s are interesting in and of themselves. More important, she is able to highlight the transitions of the time. Especially good are her descriptions of the emergence of the middle class and their emptiness.Her view is limited, but that is what allows her to write about the context of her life.
Bev
This book is full of beautiful and funny observations of country society at the turn of the last century in England. The writer came of age before industrialization took hold and this book gave me a very valuable glimpse into what the world was like before industry remade made the world to suit its own needs. You had to poop outside but at least everything wasn't crappy and made in China. And your neighbors were always there for you and you for them, though that didn't necessarily mean you liked them. The section on the backlash against women cyclists is awesome. Bike culture has always been a little funny it seems.
Joseph
Lark Rise to Candleford is actually three books, "Larkrise", "Over to Candleford", and "Candleford Green". Set in rural 1890's Oxfordshire, the author recounts her childhood, writing down all the little details and beauty of country life. Flora Thompson was a naturalist and her love of nature is self-evident in this trilogy. "Nearer at hand where the trees and bushes and wild-flower patches beside the path she had trodden daily. The pond where the yellow brandyball waterlilies grew, the little birch thicket where the long-tailed tits had congregated , the boathouse where she had sheltered from the thunderstorm and seen the rain plash like leaden bullets into the leaden water, and the hillock beyond from which she had seen the perfect rainbow. She was never to see any of these again, but she was to carry a mental picture of them, to be recalled at will, through the changing scenes of lifetime."As she went on her way, gossamer threads, sun from bush to bush, barricaded her pathway, and as she broke through one after another of these fairy barricades she thought, ‘They’re trying to bind and keep me’. But the threads which were to bind her to hernative county were more enduring than gossamer. They were spun of love and kinship and cherished memories"(The BBC TV Adaptation of "Lark Rise to Candleford" converted this final paragraph from "Candleford Green" into a poem that Mrs. Timmins recites)I loved this and all the frequent descriptions of nature, the narrations of the simplicity of country life, and the stories of everyday people was so heartwarming. The final paragraph (quoted above) proved so moving that my eyes began to water. :-) I recommend this book to everyone!
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