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Lydia Aspen comes to live in the town on Evensford after the death of her father. Living with two elderly aunts, she leads a solitary existence until a local lad, Richardson, introduces her into Evensford society in the 1920s. Richardson soon falls in love with Lydia, but the path to true love doesn't run smoothly - Lydia flirts with two of Richardson's closest friends, Alex and Tom, and others beside. When it appears that Alex is going to ask Lydia to marry him, Richardson is devastated and 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.
The story 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 that really is about it. 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 and 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 her intuition, 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 I felt that I would like to tell her a few home truths. However, the author ensures that she is not completely annoying so that the reader retains a little sympathy for the predicaments in which she finds herself. This really is cleverly done and for me, ensures that H E Bates remains one of the finest writers of the twentieth century.
The style of writing is highly descriptive. 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' writing is neither. I finished this book feeling honoured to have been able to read such beautiful, pure prose.
This is a love story, one of my least favourite types of novel. 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 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 I could identify. It doesn't matter that the book is set nearly one hundred years ago; it is still relevant to today's society. 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.
The book is available from play.com for £5.99. The book is published by Methuen Publishing Ltd and has 304 pages. ISBN: 9780413776532
Lydia Aspen, a seemingly shy girl from a wealthy but isolated background, is encouraged by her aunts, her new carers, to discover the delights of growing up. They entrust her education to Mr Richardson, the young apprentice for Evenford's local newspaper, who is sent to their house to 'get a story' about the recent death of Lydia's father. Richardson's access to the Aspens is unusual, as they are rarely seen by anyone from the town and hide behind their stone walls and perimeter of trees; introducing Lydia to the town's inhabitants gives Richardson a great sense of pride. Visiting the Aspen estate also allows Richardson the chance to escape from the great engulfing vacuum of Evensford, with it's endless stretch of factory roofs and back alleys. As Lydia and Richardson spend more time together, he realises that his initial concept of Lydia was wrong, that she is far from being shy and is often impetuous and demanding, and enjoys captivating the young men who become her companions. Richardson soon discovers that his promise to love her, no matter what she does to him, is going to push him beyond the pain and feelings he thinks he is capable of experiencing. One of Bates' best-loved and most enduring books, Love for Lydia is an extraordinary tale of love and longing, set against the backdrop of 1920s decadence, and the fall of the English upper classes.