Sunday, 23 September 2012

Lark Rise to Candleford

Lark Rise, Over to Candleford, Candleford Green
Flora Thompson
Bungay, Suffolk, Richard Clay & Co, 1948, 512p

In moving from South Yorkshire to Oxford, I felt I needed something to ease me through the transition. And what better than a fin de siecle classic set in rural Oxforshire?!

The Lark Rise to Candleford trilogy is the semi-autobiographical tale of Laura, describing her journey from her childhood in a rural hamlet to her teenage years in a nearby village. Thompson goes into minute detail about all aspects of life - the novel begins as a broader exploration of the people, but slowly focuses in upon Laura's family. 

The beginning of the novel is very general, as Thompson talks about everyday life in Lark Rise. She dedicates chapters to the school system, the work of the village men, and local gossip. Her descriptions of the countryside were incredible, making me want to get right out there and enjoy my new surroundings. The way in which the reader is drawn right into the lives of the characters  is incredible. First, Thompson talks generally about a certain village tradition, like rules regarding callers - when to expect visitors, whom to expect, and when to reciprocate. In this way, the story is not very plot based, nor does it focus upon character development. Yet the intricacy of the anecdotes makes it difficult to put down.

Occasionally, Thompson takes you right into a specific example, usually one in Laura's experience; documenting a particular episode of entertainment. This is how we get to know Laura - her experiences are often drawn upon to demonstrate certain village rules and expectations. Throughout the book, there is a more dedicated focus upon Laura's life, so that when she moves to the nearby village of Candleford, we go with her. She becomes assistant to the post mistress, and learns about life outside the comfort of the parental home. 

A particular aspect of Thompson's novel that I thoroughly enjoyed was her exploration of the new century. She seems very preoccupied with change - villages are getting bigger, democracy is developing, and social rules are no longer so stiff. Thompson seems open minded, but it is clear that not everyone felt the same way. As such, Lark Rise is almost a social history novel - a documentation of life at the turn of the century in rural Oxfordshire. And as someone who is currently living through a lot of changes, it was comforting to know that I'm not alone.

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