The First Cut is the Deepest

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 Love for Lydia  by H.E. Bates In the 1920s, Lydia Aspen moves to Evensford after the death of her father to live with two elderly aunts. She leads a solitary existence until a local lad, Richardson, introduces her into Evensford society. She loves her new life, especially when Richardson¬† falls in love with her. However, the path to true love doesn’t run smoothly – Lydia flirts with two of Richardson’s closest friends, Alex and Tom right in front of him, and others outside the group of friends. Then it appears that Alex is going to ask Lydia to marry him. Richardson is devastated by this news and the way he responds is completely out of character. Life for the friends will never be the same again.

The very mention of H E Bates’s name evokes memories of my childhood. From an early age, I was introduced to his work and I still enjoy it today. Probably best known for his books featuring Pop Larkin and his family, televised in The Darling Buds of May, he has also written several volumes of short stories and novels, of which Love for Lydia is the latter.

The story of Lydia is told from the point of view of Richardson, whose first name we are never told. Despite this, we find out very little about him because the emphasis of the book is very much on Lydia. We know that he is rather flaky – he has three jobs during the course of the book – and we know that he is devoted both to Lydia and his friends, Alex and Tom, but apart from that, he is a very mysterious character. This is not a problem though – it is this mystery that makes the story so intriguing. It really is unclear right up until the last page what is going to happen. When the story really does get moving, there were several times when the hairs stood up on the back of my neck because what happens is so unexpected.

It is quite hard to like Lydia. She is a girl who very much lives according to the way she feels that day, without considering whether she is hurting other people or not. Although she does not mean to be hurtful, she frequently is and there was many a time when she needed to be told a few home truths. However, the author ensures that she is not completely annoying, by injecting the occasional humility into the character, so that the reader retains a little sympathy for the predicaments in which she finds herself. This really is cleverly done and ensures that H E Bates remains one of the finest writers of the twentieth century.

“It is rare that I appreciate an author’s work like I do this one and Love for Lydia is one of the best examples of his work.”

The style of writing is highly descriptive and it is easy to visualise the countryside in which the story is based. Seasons and scenery in particular come leaping off the page at the reader; for example, “…staring through the dusty windscreen of the car at golden clarified sunlight steeping like warm liquid the wheatfields, the copses and the high hedgerows of hawthorn.” There are also vivid descriptions of a small town beginning to suffer from The Depression of the early 1930s. Too much description can often be tedious and comes over as being pretentious, yet H E Bates’ skillful writing is neither. I finished this book feeling honoured to have been able to read such beautiful, pure prose.

This is a love story, something that I usually avoid at all costs. It is also very much about the innocence of first love and the slow realisation that life is not as easy as it first appears. It is this slightly jaded slant on romance that won me over. There is just the right mixture of hope and disappointment to make it a really realistic read and one with which many people will be able to identify. It doesn’t matter that the book is set nearly one hundred years ago; it is still very much relevant to people today. I was interested to see that the book was televised in the 1970s featuring Jeremy Irons and Peter Davison. I suspect that it would be difficult to portray the book properly on television because it is the quality of the writing that makes it so good, but I would still like to see it.

I highly recommend this book. It is rare that I appreciate an author’s work like I do this one and Love for Lydia is one of the best examples of his work. If you appreciate good literature, make sure you add it to your list – H E Bates is so much more than the Larkins and The Darling Buds of May.

The book is published by Methuen Publishing Ltd and has 304 pages.

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Love for Lydia
by H.E. Bates

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Written by sunmeilan

My background is varied. I studied Chinese at Durham University in the UK, Renmin University in Beijing and Nanjing University. I then lived in China for many years, before returning to the UK to study criminology at the London School of Economics, from where I have a Masters. I have published articles on drug treatment and the criminal justice system. Although I have now left this field, I do enjoy crime fiction and reviewing books from this genre. I also have a strong interest in Chinese modern fiction.

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