review by Maryom
For most people mention H E Bates and their immediate thought will be of The Darling Buds of May and the series of books following the lives of the Larkin family, but there are lots more novels and short stories by him to be discovered. I personally came to his work via the film of his novella The Triple Echo, and so moved on to his short stories rather than novels. Bloomsbury are now re-issuing all Bates' stories and novellas, making them available for the first time as e-books; apparently there are over 300 of them, so it's maybe not surprising that I hadn't come across this particular collection before.
First published in 1959, this collection of thirteen short stories presents the world from a child's perspective - an often puzzling world, full of things that are only partially understood. Childhood as seen here isn't necessarily the comfy cosy place we imagine it to be, but one full of doubts and echoes of the wider adult world; for instance in "Let's Play Soldiers", a young boy becomes aware of the uncomfortable, heartbreaking reality of war; a sharp contrast to the war-like games he plays with his mates. To a small child, his own world is sufficient, the people within accepted as they are without query - Bates portrays children on the verge of moving from this 'bubble', starting to see the people around them as individuals with their own thoughts and feelings.
Some of the stories are told from the perspective of an adult looking back on their childhood, re-visiting the innocence of that time - both their own and that of the world generally. The world has certainly changed since these stories were written. For some readers these stories will be like a window opening on their own childhood; a girl playing 'house' in among the bracken reminded me of my own childhood playing similar games in farmers' fields - those fields are still there, but somehow I can't imagine today's young children playing there - or boys conducting a 'war' on the streets - again these days, aren't they more likely to be playing the same game on a console? Childhood was definitely freer in those days!
Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Bloomsbury Publishing
Genre - short stories