Ronald Blythe came into my reading world late last year from two different directions. I attended the East Anglian Book Awards and sat with on a table with his publisher and just after this his name was mentioned several times in conjunction with other authors – Robert Macfarlane and Roger Deakin – whose writing I enjoy greatly.
The Time by the Sea covers just a few years in Blythe’s life, when he lived in Aldborough (Suffolk) and came into contact with the influential Aldborough Set. This group of people was as important in East Anglia as Woolf’s Bloomsbury Set had been earlier in the twentieth century.
Blythe comes to this specific area of Suffolk thanks to his connections to John Nash and quickly meets other important figures from the world of art, music and literature such as Britten, Forster and Hambling.
This book could so easily have been a “luvvie-fest” but instead of feeling like Blythe is name dropping I felt that he was really sharing his memories of these people in their Suffolk setting nearly sixty years ago.
The landscape around Aldborough is vital to all of the memories and as I am familiar with the landscape and towns talked about I felt that I was wandering around the area with Blythe and his friends.
Some names I knew but many of these important and influential people I’d not come across before and I read this with the book in one hand and the Dictionary of National Biography open on my computer!
Not knowing all of the characters didn’t matter to my enjoyment of the book, and having read works from friends who appear later in Blythe’s life, it was nice to travel back in time with him. My list of books to look out for has grown a lot and in this Britten centenary year it was nice to learn more about him from an informal point of view.
My slight criticism of the book is that sometimes Blythe leaves a person’s tale before you’ve really got to know them. I realise that this is because it is a book of his own memories and not a biography of his friends, but tantalising little snippets are given and then not expanded on. Sometimes I wasn’t sure if this is because Blythe is a genuinely nice person who doesn’t want to speak ill of anyone or if because he wasn’t actually a full member of the ‘set’ and so doesn’t actually know the whole story. I am just a nosey person who wants to know the full story!
Blythe’s whimsical style really appeals to me and his love for East Anglia shines through, as does his respect for people, buildings and nature alike. I can’t wait to read more of his books now.